University Of Illinois To Honor Missing Chinese Student Yingying Zhang

Yingying Zhang
Photo by University of Illinois Police Department

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A Memorial Garden Will Be Put Up In Memory of Yingying Zhang

A missing Chinese Student who is presumed to be dead is getting a memorial garden to honor her at the University of Illinois reports the Chicago Tribune. Yingying Zhang, 26, was a visiting Scholar from China when she was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. Her body, since she went missing on June 2017 has yet to be found.

Who Yingying Zhang Was

Yingying Zhang was a bright Chinese Scholar who wanted to be a professor in China. Born in the Fujian Province in Southeast China she excelled in science and eventually studied at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She would end up in Illinois to study photosynthesis and crop productivity. She arrived at the University of Illinois on April 2017 and on June 2017 she went missing.

yingying zhang
photo courtesy of University of Illinois Police

On June 9, 2017, Zhang tried to take the bus to another part of town in Urbana, Illinois to sign a one year lease on an apartment. She missed the bus due to being at the wrong stop so she texted her leasing agent that she would be late. Zhang walked to another bus stop and that’s when a man in a car pulled up to the stop and after a minute of talking she got in and that was the last time Zhang was seen alive.

When her friends noticed that Zhang hadn’t arrived back from her apartment hunt they told an associate professor who called the police to report her missing.

The Search

Police and the FBI worked together to try and find out what happened to Yingying Zhang. Search teams were formed by the Chinese student population and a reward of $50,000 was put up. Her family arrived to the United States from China to aid in the search.

Finding the Suspect

Police had surveillance video of when Zhang got kidnapped. They couldn’t make out the plates but luckily for them the car Zhang got into was a unique car. The car was a four-door Saturn Astras and there were only 18 cars in the area. The police zeroed in on a former graduate of the university named Brendt Allen Christensen who claimed he couldn’t remember what he was doing that day.

On closer investigation of the surveillance tape, the police found similarities between Christensen’s car and the footage. There was a cracked hubcap and a sunroof that matched Christensen’s car. After they secured a warrant they also noticed that the passenger side of the car was much cleaner than the rest of the car leading the investigators to believe Christensen was trying to clean evidence off his car.

brendt christiansen
photo provided by Macon County Sheriffs office and police

After further questioning, Christensen admitted to picking up an ‘Asian girl’ but dropping her off a couple blocks away because she freaked out when he made a wrong turn.

Audio Confession

Investigators obtained an audio confession from Christenson when they put him under surveillance reports the Chicago Tribune. At a walk to honor Zhang at the University of Illinois, he can be overheard talking about his ‘ideal victim’ while pointing out people in the crowd. Christenson continues on the audio, talking about how he kidnapped her and took her to his house. He says she fought back but he ended up strangling her. Unfortunately, he never disclosed where he put her body.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty due to the severity of the crime reports APNEWS. The trial has been set to April 2019.

The Garden

The memorial garden to honor Zhang will be built near the spot where Yingying Zhang got kidnapped. The project was the brainchild of Guofang Miao, a friend of Zhang. It will replace 600 square feet of grass with something more peaceful and representative of Yingying Zhang reports The News-Gazette.

yingying

The proposal states,

“The proposed design includes a short gravel path leading to a bench oriented toward the bus stop at which Ms. Zhang was last seen. An engraved stone will be set near the bench with brief text describing the garden. Concrete pavers, fading into the gravel…, will be installed where the path meets the sidewalk.”

Miao states,

“One bad thing happened, and then you realize there are so man good people surrounding us. But it couldn’t really change the tragedy. The only way we can do anything at this moment for Yingying, for her family is to keep her story alive. I think that’s the most important thing.”

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