Before she disappeared, Yingying Zhang had everything going for her.
She’d attended a prominent university in Beijing.
She was in a band called “Cute Horse” in China, in which she played the guitar and sang.
She was remembered as outgoing, as positive, as smart, and as having a bright smile. She was from a loving family. She had a promising career studying crop production.
Now, the FBI says that Zhang, 26, is most likely dead, and they’ve arrested a PhD student from the American university she attended and accused him of kidnapping Zhang.
Her body has not been found, and authorities have released very little about why they believe she is dead and how they think that occurred.
Brendt Christensen, 28, is accused of luring Zhang, who was waiting at a bus stop, into his black Saturn vehicle on June 9, and then abducting her. An affidavit filed along with his arrest accuses Christensen of admitting to kidnapping the young scholar while under surveillance.
Christensen was a PhD student researcher and doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He lived in Champaign but was originally from Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
When Zhang first disappeared, police launched a massive public awareness effort in an attempt to find her. In so doing, they released many photos of Zhang.
Zhang was an international scholar who focused her research in the areas of photosynthesis and crop productivity. She had only arrived at the University of Illinois in April 2017. According to CNN, Zhang “had a year-long position at the university’s department of nature resources and environmental sciences.”
She graduated from “Beijing’s prestigious Peking University last year with a master’s degree in environmental engineering,” CNN reported.
“She was about six weeks into her appointment as a scholar in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences when she disappeared,” said University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler to the cable news network.
Zhang’s father, Zhang Ronggao, “traveled from Nanping, China, to do what he could to help find his daughter,” reported CNN. He found a lot of support when he got there. The Chicago Tribune described Zhang’s father as a “working-class factory driver.”
A GoFundMe campaign to help Zhang’s family with living expenses while the search continues has raised almost $100,000.
“We realize that this has been a source of anxiety for our entire campus community,” Police Chief Jeff Christensen wrote before the arrest. “Our concern for Yingying grows with each day that passes, and we have personally witnessed the pain this uncertain time has created for her family members, friends and colleagues. While we cannot share specific details on the investigation in order to maintain its integrity and direction, we continue to make progress in our search, and we will not give up until we find her.”
You can read more about Brendt Christensen here: