Brendt Christensen is behind bars for allegedly kidnapping missing University of Illinois exchange student Yingying Zhang, and now reports indicate that Christensen had actually turned up to a campus vigil for the victim.
Authorities believe the 28-year-old Christensen had picked up Zhang near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus back in June and abducted the Chinese student.
After Christensen was arrested on Friday, pictures circulated that appeared to show the alleged attacker attending a walk supporting Zhang just one day before he would be arrested, the New York Post reported. A photograph taken by Kaylee Hartung of CNN showed Christensen among those showing their support for the missing woman, who police believe is dead.
The photo showed Christensen standing alone on a set of stairs, apparently watching as dozens of other supporters carried signs and banners in Zhang’s honor. By that point, police had reportedly already been gathering evidence against Christensen including surveillance that appeared to show him describing her abduction and alleged murder. It was not immediately clear if his appearance at the rally factored into Christensen’s arrest the following day or if he might have still been under surveillance when he appeared at the vigil.
Video from WCIA News also caught Christensen participating in the walk for Zhang.
As CNN noted, there were some other bits of evidence pointing to Christensen, including his unusual car that was nearly identical to the one Zhang was seen entering before her disappearance. Christensen also changed his story multiple times about what happened on the day of her disappearance, a criminal complaint noted.
One of the most damaging pieces of evidence came from Christensen’s phone, which showed a visit to the fetish website FetLife where someone visited a forum called “Abduction 101” where people fantasized about planning kidnappings.
Surveillance also appeared to catch Brendt Christensen bragging about abducting the woman, police claimed.
“Christensen stated that he brought Y.Z. back to his apartment, and otherwise held her in his apartment against her will,” FBI Special Agent Anthony Manganaro wrote in the criminal complaint.
Yingying Zhang had come to the United States to study agricultural sciences at the University of Illinois, and was the daughter of a working-class family in her native China, the Associated Press reported. Her disappearance had been mourned on the campus and across the region, with Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones calling it a “senseless and devastating loss of a promising young woman and a member of our community.”
The campus vigil where Christensen had been spotted drew crowds of people to remember Zhang’s life and support those still searching for her.
Brendt Christensen made a court appearance on Monday but has not yet entered a plea for the kidnapping charge. Police said they are still searching for Yingying Zhang, who is believed to have been killed.
[Featured Image by Macon County Sheriff’s Office]