It is with unmeasurable sadness that we announce beautiful Yingying Zhang is presumed dead at the hands of Brendt Christensen.
In the early evening of June 30, 2017, the FBI and UI police, and K9 officers rolled up to 2503 W. Springfield Ave. Stonegate Apartments in Champaign, Illinois carrying guns and patrolling the area. Soon after, an FBI Evidence Response team entered building B. When they exited the building, they had suspect 28 year old Brendt Christensen under federal arrest for the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang. Police believe she is no longer alive.
On June 9, Yingying was using the mass transit busing system to get to her appointment of signing a new lease with a landlord at One North apratments. Just before 2:00 PM that day, she exited a bus and was seen flagging down another bus, which continued past her without stopping. It was then that she walked down to the I22 bus stop on the corner of N. Goodwin Ave. and W. Clark St. While waiting for the bus, which would still nto arrive for approximately 20 minutes, Yingying was approached by a black Saturn Astra 4-door hatchback. After conversing for a few minutes, Yingying entered the vehicle, which then drove northbound on N. Goodwin. Yingying has not been seen since. At 9:24 PM that evening, a UI Associate Professor reported Yingying missing to the UI police department. More information is available here.
Law enforcement learned of Christensen just three days after Yingying went missing. Christensen’s car was among the 18 vehicles in the Champaign area that matched the Astra seen on video surveillance. As they were contacting and interviewing all owners of Saturn Astra’s, Christensen was approached on June 12 around 8:10 PM after investigators located his 2008 black Saturn Astra (license plate #P399495) in the parking lot. After law enforcement personnel searched the vehicle, they noticed it had a large sunroof, a cracked front right hubcap, and the interior passenger door had been exceptionally cleaned compared to the other doors of the car.
On June 14, additional footage of surveillance revealed to investigators that the Astra that picked up Yingying also had a cracked front passenger hubcap. Law enforcement received authorization to search Christensen’s Astra further, and served a search warrant to Christensen on June 15. At that time, another occupant was also in the home. The Astra was towed, and Christensen was interviewed by the FBI.
According to an affidavit filed on June 30, On June 9 Christensen’s car was seen circling the block once Yingying had stopped at the corner. When he came back around he quickly approached Yingying and began engaging her in conversation. After about a minute, Yingying entered the car on the front passenger seat. Video surveillance shows Christensen driving up N. Goodwin Ave. past W. University Ave. It was during the June 15 interview that Christensen confessed to having picked up a distressed Yingying, but claimed she panicked after he made a wrong turn so her let her out of his vehicle just a few blocks away.
At the same time Christensen was being interviewed, the other occupant had approved a search of the apartment. At that time, several computers and Christensen’s cell phone were seized for further examination. The cell phone revealed that Christensen had visited a website in search techniques on how to abduct or kidnap another person. On June 16, the FBI began monitoring Christensen’s activities. 13 days later, on June 29 Christensen was overheard on audio surveillance describing the kidnapping of Yingying. It was then that law enforcement learned that Christensen had said he brought Yingying back to his apartment and held her against her will. With this information and other details the FBI has not released, the FBI announced that they do not believe Yingying is still alive.
The criminal complaint against Christensen is available on the UI Police website. The charge of the kidnapping alone is punishable by life imprisonment or death. He will remain in custody pending a federal court appearance in Urbana, IL on Monday, July 3, at 10:00 AM.
Christensen was born on June 30, 1989. Married in 2011, Christensen had a bright future. He dropped out of the Ph.D. program for Experimental Condensed Matter Physics from UI, but got his BS in Physics from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and graduated with his Masters in Physics at UI in May 2017. He also served as a teachers assistant at the university. After graduation, the anti-social man commenced spending the bulk of his time playing video games and exploring how to perform a kidnapping. Christensen Was spotted holding hands with an unknown woman at the walking vigil that was held just a day before his arrest.
More details about Christensen are available here.
Photo of Brendt and Michelle Christensen courtesy of WBC News
Yingying’s family, UI officials, and the Chinese consulate were all advised of the evidence against Christensen, and his arrest prior to releasing the information to the media. A campus wide memorial service was scheduled for July 1 to honor Yingying young life, but it has been postponed to a later date to allow her family to grieve in private and come to terms with their loss.