Yingying Zhang, 26

One June 9, 2017, Yingying Zhang was kidnapped from the streets that weave through the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. She was last seen willfully entering a 2008 black Saturn Astra 4-door hatchback at 2:04 PM for reasons unknown, wearing a charcoal-gray hat with a white logo on the front, a white/pink flannel long-sleeve shirt, a white undershirt, jeans, white shoes and carrying a navy blue backpack. She has shoulder-length, dark brown hair and wears glasses.

Crime Stoppers and the FBI have united to offer a $50,000 reward for any information leading to the whereabouts of Yingying.  No further details will be released to the public nor her family to protect the integrity of the investigation, to make sure Yingying is found as quickly as possible, and for fear of information being be detected by her kidnapper. The search is now considered a national priority by the FBI. Any information or tips should be sent in via the FBI online form, called in at (800)CALL-FBI [(800)225-5324], or dial 911.

Yingying earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree from Sun Yat-Sen University in China in 2013. She earned her Master’s of Science degree in Environmental Engineering from Peking University in Beijing in 2016. She worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China until April 24, 2017, when she came to central Illinois to research photosynthesis and crop productivity under UI’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences classes. Yingying has been staying in  university housing at the Orchard Downs complex on S. Race St. in Urbana since she arrived.

The very excited 26 year old UI agricultural student had made an appointment to sign a lease with an apartment manager at the One North apartment complex in the 1600 block of N. Lincoln Ave. in Urbana, where she could interact with friends and share living expenses. At 1:30 PM the visiting scholar texted the property manager saying she was running late and would not be there until 2:10 PM. She then picked up the 1:35 PM Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District Teal Line bus at the south shelter near the Orchard Downs complex. She exited the bus at 1:52 PM at the stop on the corner of Springfield and Mathews avenues to switch to another bus line. She walked several blocks down to the 22S Illini bus stop, and waited under a tree on the east side of N. Goodwin Avenue near the corner of W. Clark St.

Surveillance video provided by UI police shows that the black Saturn Astra had circled the area prior to making contact with Yingying. Perhaps it was tracking her after she exited the bus. When it came back around the driver quickly approached Yingying, who had been standing quietly for only a few minutes at the bus stop in front of the UI Electrical and Computer Engineering Building. The white male driver pulled up and immediately captured Yingying’s attention, and they exchanged conversation with for a few minutes. Yingying is then seen entering his car around 2:04 PM, which sped away northbound.

The future landlord sent a message to Yingying’s phone at 2:38 PM saying “Hey Yingying! Just checking in to see if you’re on your way.” But she did not reply and has not been heard from again. Her friend (Chuck Guo) contacted The News-Gazette on June 10 to report her missing and seeking publicity in finding her.

The Chinese Consulate General in Chicago helped Yingying’s father (Zhang Ronggao), aunt (Liqin Ye), and boyfriend (Hou Xiao Lin) get an emergency visa to come from Nanping in southeastern China to the United States on June 17.  Yingying’s mother wasn’t physically up to making the trip, and is emotionally distraught.

On June 24, Yingying’s relatives from China attended a candlelight vigil in Chicago, put on by school alumni and members of the Chinese community. Yingying is described as a real family person, with dreams of becoming a professor in the United States or China. Our heartstrings were pulled when Yingying’s father publicly begged to his daughter to hold on and not give up.

Neither of Yingying’s parents, nor her 24 year old brother (Xin Yang Zhang) attended college. Her father is a truck driver at an electrical company and her mother is a housewife.  Yingying chose UI because she received enough money from a grant to afford to live and study there, and not be a financial burden to her parents. She stayed in touch with family by phone and WeChat.

The university is housing Yingying’s family while they are here, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association on campus is assisting with meals. The family will use any monies raised towards a reward.

A news story out of China mentions a June 9 report of a black car driving the campus, the driver pretending to be a plainclothes police officer and asking students if they needed a ride. He had a police badge on his chest, but his name was blocked. After students refused to enter the car, the driver left the scene. The news story also indicated that Yingying’s parents were expediting their visas to come to the US and help with the search for her.

On the UI’s Reddit page, a user named “rosabel34” said the driver of a black sedan had approached a friend of hers on June 9, which was reported it to the police. According to the friend, the man had a badge on a chain under his shirt and claimed to be an undercover police officer. He asked her come up to his car for a few questions, but the girl refused.

According to carsalesbase.com, The Astra replaced the Saturn Ion in 2008. The total number of Saturn Astras sold in the US: 11,968 sold in 2008; 6,298 sold in 2009; and 25 sold in 2010.  The ratio of black ones sold is undetermined. Individuals can research further here. The Astra was available stateside  as 2-doors and 4-door hatchbacks, with a 138-horsepower 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. Buyers could choose from a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4-speed automatic. 4-door models were available in base XE and sporty XR trim levels. Available safety features included ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. Among Astra’s standard features were OnStar assistance, stolen vehicle tracking, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, heated power mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers. The Astra had conventional steel body panels, not dent-resistant plastic panels. Image of pricing and features available here. Dicsussions about features, sales and reviews available here and here and here.

● YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-mWC6WezBs

UI police search updates & photos of Yingying

Find Yingying Facebook page

FBI Report

● Yingying entering the 1:35:16 PM Teal Line bus

● 2008-2009 black Saturn Astra 4-door hatchback
(actual car has stock hubcaps, and front & back license plates) (driver appears to be a white man wearing a watch on his right wrist)

● There is potentially a $50,000 reward for information leading to finding Yingying:
– Crimestoppers and the Zhang family are offering a $40,000 reward to locate Yingying.
– The FBI is rewarding up to $10,000 for information to help locate her.

● Tips sent to Crimestoppers are eligible for the $40,000 portion of the reward. Information can be submitted to the Champaign County Crimestoppers as follows:
– Call 217-373-TIPS (217-373-8477)
– Use an online form at http://373tips.com
– Use the P3 Tips mobile app available on iOS or Android
– Calls and messages to Crimestoppers route through a third-party call center that strips all identifiers prior to forwarding the information to police. Callers are assigned a unique identifying number to remain anonymous.

● Tips sent to the FBI are eligible for the $10,000 portion of the reward. Information can be submitted to the FBI as follows:
– Call 800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324)
– Use an online form at https://tips.fbi.gov/

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