A man has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of a visiting Chinese graduate student last seen June 9 on the University of Illinois campus, the U.S. attorney's office for Central Illinois said Friday. Video shows her getting into the front seat of a black Saturn Astra. Authorities say agents believe Zhang is no longer alive based on that and other facts the investigation uncovered.
A criminal complaint against Christensen alleges that in April, he used his phone to surf the internet and check out online forums like "Perfect abduction fantasy", "Abduction 101", and even one called "planning a kidnapping". A University spokeswoman said Zhang had planned to enroll in a doctoral program at the U of I.
Zhang had arrived at the university in April, and was studying photosynthesis and crop productivity, according to the FBI's criminal complaint.
Based on that auto, tips led Federal Bureau of Investigation agents to Brendt Christensen, who they say was talking about kidnapping the woman. On Thursday, agents who had Christensen under surveillance heard the suspect admit he had abducted Zhang.
"This is a senseless and devastating loss of a promising young woman and a member of our community", Jones said.
Members of Zhang's family, the Chinese consulate, and University of IL officials have been advised of Christensen's arrest, the statement read.
David Meldgin, a teaching assistant in the physics department, said he had an office next door to Christensen for two years, but they spoke only a few times. The affidavit stated that investigators noted Christensen couldn't recall what he was doing on the day Zhang disappeared.
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Zhang's disappearance prompted a nationwide discussion of the case in China, considering there are over 300,000 Chinese scholars, students, and graduates attending or working at USA universities.
Ronggao Zhang; his sister-in-law, Liqin Ye; and Ms. Zhang's boyfriend traveled to Champaign-Urbana from China on June 17 to join in the search for Yingying, who they described as serious-minded but fun and committed to her family and her education. She and the driver spoke for a period of time before she got in the auto, which drove away heading north on Goodwin.
Christensen was placed under surveillance on June 16 and his apartment was searched.
Christensen will remain in custody pending his initial federal court appearance, which is set for Monday in Urbana.
She was among 5,600 Chinese student enrolled at U. of I., more than at any other US college, according to government data obtained by USA Today.
Authorities declined comment when asked if they had any leads on where Zhang's body might be located. Lance Cooper, of the University of IL. But they say he was nice and a helpful T.A. and U of I faculty who knew him say the same thing.