Chi­nese scholar be­lieved dead; man charged with kid­nap­ping

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A man was charged on Fri­day with kid­nap­ping a vis­it­ing Univer­sity of Illi­nois scholar from China who author­i­ties be­lieve to be dead af­ter she dis­ap­peared three weeks ago. A fed­eral crim­i­nal com­plaint al­leges the sus­pect’s phone was used to visit an on­line fo­rum in April called “Ab­duc­tion 101.” Yingy­ing Zhang, the 26-year-old daugh­ter of a work­ing-class fac­tory driver from China, dis­ap­peared on June 9, just weeks af­ter ar­riv­ing at the Ur­bana-Cham­paign cam­pus in cen­tral Illi­nois where was do­ing re­search in agri­cul­tural sciences and was ex­pected to be­gin work on her doc­tor­ate in the fall.

Some 5,600 Chi­nese stu­dents are en­rolled at the univer­sity - more than at any other col­lege in the na­tion - and Zhang’s dis­ap­pear­ance fed anx­i­eties of fam­i­lies of Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing in the US Fed­eral author­i­ties say Brendt Chris­tensen, who turned 28 on Fri­day, of Cham­paign, Illi­nois, is charged in a crim­i­nal com­plaint with ab­duct­ing Zhang shortly af­ter she stepped off a bus near the univer­sity cam­pus. Video shows her get­ting into the front seat of a black Saturn As­tra.

Ac­cord­ing to the 10-page af­fi­davit filed in fed­eral court by FBI Spe­cial Agent An­thony Man­ga­naro, Chris­tensen was un­der sur­veil­lance Thurs­day when agents over­heard him ex­plain­ing he kid­napped Zhang. Author­i­ties say based on that and other facts un­cov­ered dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, agents be­lieve Zhang is no longer alive. Asked Fri­day night if author­i­ties had any leads on where Zhang’s body might be lo­cated, the spokesman for the FBI Spring­field of­fice, Bradley Ware, de­clined com­ment. Illi­nois Chancellor Robert Jones said in a state­ment the cam­pus com­mu­nity is sad­dened by the news Zhang is be­lieved dead.

“This is a sense­less and dev­as­tat­ing loss of a promis­ing young woman and a mem­ber of our com­mu­nity,” Jones said. “There is noth­ing we can do to ease the sad­ness or grief for her fam­ily and friends, but we can and we will come to­gether to sup­port them in any way we can in these dif­fi­cult days ahead.” The fed­eral charg­ing doc­u­ment says one of the threads on the fo­rum that Chris­tensen’s smart­phone vis­ited on­line in April - months be­fore Zhang went miss­ing - was en­ti­tled, “Per­fect ab­duc­tion fan­tasy.” An­other was about “plan­ning a kid­nap­ping.”

Ac­cord­ing to Man­ga­naro’s af­fi­davit, in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined there were 18 ve­hi­cles sim­i­lar to the one Zhang got in that were reg­is­tered in Cham­paign County. The ve­hi­cle be­long­ing to Chris­tensen was first ob­served in an apart­ment com­plex park­ing lot on June 12 - just days af­ter Zhang went miss­ing - and in­ves­ti­ga­tors ques­tioned him. The af­fi­davit stated that in­ves­ti­ga­tors noted Chris­tensen couldn’t re­call what he was do­ing on the day Zhang dis­ap­peared. They searched the ve­hi­cle but didn’t re­move any­thing. In­ves­ti­ga­tors later de­ter­mined the car in the video had a sun­roof and cracked hub­cap, like the ve­hi­cle be­long­ing to Chris­tensen, ac­cord­ing to the af­fi­davit. When in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­ter­viewed Chris­tensen again, he ad­mit­ted to driv­ing around the Univer­sity of Illi­nois cam­pus and giv­ing a ride to an Asian woman who said she was late for an ap­point­ment. Chris­tensen said the woman pan­icked af­ter he ap­par­ently made a wrong turn and he let her out in a res­i­den­tial area.

The court doc­u­ment in­di­cates a search of Chris­tensen’s car in­di­cates the area where Zhang was be­lieved to have been sit­ting had been cleaned. Chris­tensen was placed un­der con­tin­u­ous sur­veil­lance on June 16, and on Thurs­day he was cap­tured on an au­dio record­ing ex­plain­ing how he took Zhang to his apart­ment and held her against her will. The af­fi­davit says the woman re­mains miss­ing. Friends and fam­ily said Zhang dreamed of one day land­ing a pro­fes­sor­ship and be­ing able to help her par­ents fi­nan­cially. She saved some of her in­come as a re­searcher to buy items for her mother and father in­clud­ing a mi­crowave and a cell­phone.

Those who knew Zhang de­scribed her as bright and out­go­ing. She played gui­tar and sang in a band called “Cute Horse” in China. One of her fa­vorite songs was “The Rose,” a hit in 1980 for Amer­i­can singer Bette Mi­dler. Zhang’s boyfriend has said that she was also cau­tious and wouldn’t nor­mally get into a car with a stranger un­less duped or forced. Zhang grad­u­ated last year with a master’s de­gree in en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer­ing from one of China’s elite schools, Peking Univer­sity Shen­zhen Grad­u­ate School. She had been do­ing re­search on crop pho­to­syn­the­sis, which in­cluded us­ing drones to study fields, the univer­sity’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fice has said. —AP


This un­dated photo pro­vided by the Univer­sity of Illi­nois Po­lice Depart­ment shows Yingy­ing Zhang.

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