Federal Bureau of Investigation arrests man in disappearance of Chinese grad student

Fangqin Wan, a graduate student at the University of IL, walks for Yingying Zhang, a Chinese scholar who went missing three weeks ago, Thursday, June 29, 2017, in Urbana, Ill. Zhang is presumed dead, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

Brent Christensen, 27, of Champaign, was arrested Friday night.

A 27-year-old man from Champaign, Ill., has been arrested and charged with kidnapping in connection with the disappearance of University of IL scholar Yingying Zhang, officials said.

In its federal court filing, the FBI alleges Christensen was driving the black auto observed on security camera video as it stopped next to Zhang at a corner near the University of IL.

In the video, which police released, Zhang was seen standing on the street corner of W. Clark St. and N. Goodwin Ave, before being approached by the vehicle.

Christensen was under surveillance Thursday when agents overheard him saying he kidnapped Zhang, a criminal complaint says.

Christensen's first court appearance is at 10 a.m. Monday in federal court in Urbana. Video from nearby cameras showed Zhang, on her way to sign a lease for an apartment, trying unsuccessfully to flag down another bus. Zhang's disappearance and apparent kidnapping has made the parents of some Chinese students at the University of IL anxious that their children might not be safe attending colleges in America.


The FBI did not say why it believes Zhang is dead, only that information discovered during the search led agents to that conclusion.

"This is a senseless and devastating loss of a promising young woman and a member of our community", Jones said. However, Christensen admitted that he picked her up on June 15 but told an Federal Bureau of Investigation agent that he had dropped her off a few blocks away after she panicked.

Investigators later determined the auto in the video had a sunroof and cracked hubcap, like Christensen's vehicle, the affidavit states.

A criminal complaint says the smartphone of Brendt Christensen, who is charged in the kidnapping of a visiting Chinese scholar, was used to visit an online forum in April called "Abduction 101", months before the abduction.

Hundreds of people gathered at the University of IL to show support for a Chinese scholar who disappeared three weeks ago. On Thursday he was captured on an audio recording explaining how he took Zhang to his apartment and held her against her will. Christensen said the woman panicked after he apparently made a wrong turn and he let her out in a residential area. At the University of Illinois, Zhang had been conducting research on crop photosynthesis.

Christensen was placed under continuous surveillance June 16.


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