It’s been nearly two weeks since we reported on the disappearance of Yingying Zhang, a Chinese scholar who had been in the US working on research with the University of Illinois. Yingying left the University’s campus on the afternoon of June 9, 2017, boarding a bus in order to meet with someone about an apartment in the area, according to her friends. Surveillance footage was able to show Yingying stepping off the bus a short while later when she was approached by a man driving a black Saturn Astra, never to be seen again. Now officials are saying that they believe that Yingying Zhang may be dead.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the FBI has officially charged a former Ph.D. candidate who had studied physics at the University with Yingying’s abduction. Brendt Christensen was arrested on June 30, 2017, after being served with a federal complaint from the Central District of Illinois.
According to investigators, they were able to catch up with Christensen when they matched his Saturn Astra to the one spotted on the surveillance footage of Yingying. Of the 18 individuals in the area who had registered a black Saturn Astra hatchback, Christensen’s was the only one with a cracked hubcap that matched the one in the surveillance footage. It was enough for authorities to obtain a search warrant, but little evidence turned up in the vehicle since it had been recently cleaned. According to the FBI, the car doors appeared to have been cleaned, “to a more diligent extent than the other vehicle doors … indicative of an attempt to conceal or destroy evidence.”
Officials interviewed Christensen who later admitted he had picked up an Asian woman that day, but claimed that had dropped her off in a residential neighborhood. Under surveillance, the FBI overheard Christensen admit to kidnapping the international scholar and detailing how he did it.
With this information, police were able to obtain another warrant to search Christensen’s home and confiscate his cellphone. Search history revealed that prior to abducting Yingying, Christensen had visited a website called Fetlife, a social network for fetishes, which hosted a message board titled “Abduction 101.”
The case is still under investigation. So far officials have received no word on the whereabouts of Yingying, but have stated that they have reason to believe that the young woman is dead. This news comes as a shock to University of Illinois students and faculty alike. The Urbana-Champaign campus that Yingying had disappeared from is home to 5,600 international students from China, CNN reports. The news of the scholar’s disappearance is sending shockwaves of fear back to her home country of China and some believe that it is no longer safe for students to study abroad in the US.