Man held in kidnapping of Chinese scholar who is feared dead

A suspect has been arrested in connection with the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang, who went missing two weeks ago. It also says it believes the Chinese scholar, 26-year-old Yingying Zhang, is dead.

The News-Gazette of Champaign is reporting that Brendt Christensen, 27, of Champaign, was arrested late Friday on a criminal complaint as a suspect in the kidnapping of the scholar, Yingying Zhang, who is believed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to be dead. She was last seen near an Urbana bus station talking to a person in a black Saturn Astra, which police believe to have been Christensen. Police said Zhang was last seen just after 2 p.m. Friday, June 9, on security video from the B-4 parking garage on North Goodwin Avenue that police released.

The 27-year-old's first court appearance will take pace at 10am on Monday in a federal court in Urbana.

An associate chancellor, Robin Kaler, said Saturday that Christensen earned a master's degree in physics from the University of IL in May, and that "his affiliation with the department ended that same month", though she didn't explain why. Christensen was overhead by agents saying that he had kidnapped Zhang.

He added that University of IL would support Zhang's family "in any way we can in these hard days ahead".

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Investigators later determined the vehicle in the video had a sunroof and cracked hubcap, like Christensen's auto, according to the affidavit.

A criminal complaint says the smartphone of Brendt Christensen, who is charged in the kidnapping of a visiting Chinese scholar, was used to visit an online forum in April called "Abduction 101", months before the abduction. When investigators interviewed Christensen again, he acknowledged driving around the University of IL campus and giving a ride to an Asian woman who said she was late for an appointment.

He claimed that after he made a wrong turn, the woman panicked, and he let her out of his vehicle.

The criminal complaint alleged that Christensen had picked Zhang up from the campus and brought her back to his apartment and held her against her will.

Zhang's father, Ronggao Zhang, traveled to IL from Nanping, China, to be closer to the search. At the University of Illinois, Zhang had been conducting research on crop photosynthesis. This undated photo provided by The University of Illinois Police Department shows Yingying Zhang.

  • Adam Floyd