United States

Kidnapping Suspect Described Perfect Victim at Missing Scholar's Vigil, Prosecutors Say

Brendt Christensen, 27, was arrested on a criminal complaint for the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang on June 9, authorities said

The man charged with kidnapping a Chinese scholar from the University of Illinois was overheard describing his perfect victim, while pointing to people who fit the description, at a vigil held for the missing woman before his arrest, prosecutors said in court Wednesday.

Brendt Christensen, 27, was arrested on a criminal complaint for the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang on June 9, authorities said. Authorities believe Zhang is dead but a body has not been found.

Christensen will remain in custody until his trial date due to his being a threat to the community, a judge ruled Wedensday.

Zhang, 26, was about a month into a yearlong appointment at the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus when she vanished June 9, the Associated Press reported at the time. Her friends told police she had gone out to sign an apartment lease.

Since Zhang was last seen in surveillance video entering a car, the FBI, the University of Illinois Police Department and the Illinois State Police and local law enforcement have investigated her disappearance. 

The FBI said it located the black Saturn Astra Zhang was last seen getting into on Tuesday.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court by the FBI, on June 29, while Christensen was under law enforcement surveillance, agents overheard him explaining that he kidnapped Zhang.

"Based on this, and other facts uncovered during the investigation of this matter, law enforcement agents believe that Ms. Zhang is no longer alive," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

Members of Zhang’s family, the Chinese consulate, and University of Illinois officials have been advised of Christensen’s arrest and the evidence in the possession of the FBI, authorities said.

A prayer vigil planned for Saturday was canceled in the wake of the alleged kidnapper's arrest and news of Zhang’s possible death.

"We hope they are wrong, but trust they have creditable information to make this statement," organizers Kim Tee and Randy Tom said in a joint email late Friday night. "Please keep Ying Ying's family in your thought and prayers, and may God watch over them."

Zhang, from Jianyang, China, was working in the university's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, researching photosynthesis and crop productivity, the AP reported.

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