The 26-year-old visiting scholar from China, Yingying Zhang, was reported missing on Friday, June 9 from the University of Illinois campus.
Surveillance footage shows Zhang on the day of her abduction entering a black Saturn Astra on North Goodwin Avenue in Champaign at 2 p.m., which was later discovered to belong to 28-year-old Brendt Christensen, a U of I graduate.
Christensen was taken into custody on Thursday, June 29 after a thorough search of his vehicle and his cell phone, and after law enforcement overheard him admitting to his involvement in the crime.
Evidence found on his phone revealed that he had visited the FetLife forum “Abduction 101,” which included the sub-threads “perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.” Soon after Christensen’s arrest, Zhang was presumed dead, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.
Many Champaign-Urbana residents showed up during Christensen’s first court appearance, gathering around the courthouse with signs, chanting things like “justice for Yingying.” Christensen had a detention hearing the following week, where he was denied bail.
The defense attorneys that were representing Christensen, Tom, Anthony, and Evan Bruno, filed a motion on September 1 to be withdrawn from the case, citing lack of sufficient funds. Their request was approved by a federal court judge on September 10, and the office of the Federal Public Defender was appointed to take over their position.
As of early October, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Christensen, which now issues charges of kidnapping resulting in death and two counts of making false statements to the FBI. If convicted, Christensen is facing up to five years for each count of false statements. If prosecutors can prove that Zhang’s death was the result of Christensen’s alleged kidnapping, he could face life in prison or even the the death penalty. His trial is set for February 27, 2018.
Zhang’s body has not yet been found.