Brendt Christensen, 27, of Champaign, Illinois, has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of University of Illinois student, Yingying Zhang. Christensen will face a charge of kidnapping Zhang, a visiting scholar from China, who was reported missing on Friday, June 9, from the Urbana-Champaign campus. The 26-year-old Yingying Zhang was kidnapped while in transit to sign a lease on an apartment in the Champaign area, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Investigators with the FBI think the student is most likely dead, a news release from the attorney’s office said.
It was reported that agents overheard Christensen saying he kidnapped Yingying Zhang while he was under surveillance on Thursday, according to a criminal complaint. Christensen said he took Zhang back to his apartment, the complaint adds. The new statement from the US attorney’s office and FBI gave very little details regarding circumstances following Zhang’s kidnapping.
“Based on this, and other facts uncovered during the investigation of this matter, law enforcement agents believe that Ms. Zhang is no longer alive.”
In a thorough search of the suspect’s car, it was revealed the front passenger door, next to where Zhang would have been sitting, was cleaned to a “more diligent extent,” according to a court document.
'Very quiet' grad student in elite physics program is charged with kidnapping Chinese student 'who is now dead' https://t.co/svs7E0ypkk
— Daily Mail US (@DailyMail) July 2, 2017
The FBI says Christensen was driving the black Saturn Astra that was captured on security camera video picking up the student. Zhang, who traveled from China to the school’s campus in April, was last seen entering a black Saturn Astra on the college campus, and University police released a video of her getting into the car.
The footage below is the last time Yingying Zhang was seen in public. The 5 foot 4 inch tall, 110 pound Zhang, was wearing a baseball cap and carrying a backpack. The 26-year-old student stood at a bus stop, chatted briefly with the driver who pulled up to her and entered a black Saturn Astra. University police released a video of her getting into the car.
On June 15, Christensen admitted picking up Zhang, the complaint says, but he told the FBI that day her let her out just a few blocks away.
— AP Central U.S. (@APCentralRegion) June 26, 2017
Before the arrest, the FBI joined the investigation and offered a reward up to $10,000 reward for information leading to the student’s whereabouts. Police at the University of Illinois gave their condolences to Yingying’s family.
“Our thoughts are with Yingying’s family, loved ones. Please support fellow community members tonight.”
The criminal complaint also reported the allegation that Christensen had used his cellular phone in April to visit online forums with titles such as “Abduction 101,” “Perfect abduction fantasy,” and “planning a kidnapping.”
— U of I Police (@UIPD) June 25, 2017
Brendt Christensen was a graduate student in the physics department and a teaching assistant until May, a University of Illinois professor told CNN. Lance Cooper, an associate head for graduate studies in the department said everyone who heard the news about Christensen was shocked and didn’t recall Christensen having any academic interactions with Zhang.
“Everybody is shocked by this… There were no flags, no discipline issues with him, no problem with his teaching, no problems with his coursework.”
David Meldgin, a teaching assistant in the physics department, said he had an office next door to Christensen for two years, but they spoke only a few times. Meldgin said he noticed that Christensen was a quiet person in meetings, but always helped students who needed the help.
— Univ. of Illinois (@Illinois_Alma) June 27, 2017
The University of Illinois has the largest Chinese student population of any U.S. college, with 5,600 students enrolled, according to U.S. government data.
The University of Illinois Community Credit Union has also set up a GoFundMe account to help cover the living expenses of Zhang’s family while they are in the United States.
Zhang, who is from Jianyang, China, was researched photosynthesis and crop productivity in collaboration with the University of Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, according to Associated Press.
[Featured Image by University Of Illinois Police Department/Twitter]