FBI finds car connected to missing Chinese scholar’s disappearance

Yingying Zhang was last seen getting into the passenger seat of a Saturn

The FBI has located the car that missing scholar Yingying Zhang was last seen entering on the day of her disappearance.

As Crime Online previously reported, the 26-year-old visiting Chinese graduate student was last seen on security cameras entering the passenger side of a black Saturn Astra four-door hatchback on the campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 0n June 9.

The FBI announced in a press release Tuesday that the vehicle had been found after authorities received “numerous leads,” although Zhang’s location is still unknown.   Authorities did not release any information on the vehicle’s owner or the location where it was found, although the FBI was still working on “several additional leads” in the active investigation.

The agency is asking the public to continue sharing any information that may help in locating Zhang.

The FBI has classified the case as a possible kidnapping, and is treating it as a “national priority for the agency,” according to CBS News. 

The 5-foot-4, 110-pound Zhang was last seen wearing a black baseball cap, pink-and-white top, jeans and white sneakers, and was carrying a black backpack.

After stepping off a bus on her way to sign an apartment lease, she is seen on security footage speaking to the driver of the car before entering the vehicle.

Investigators believe the driver of the car was a white male who “circled the area prior to making contact with Zhang. ”

Approximately six weeks prior to her disappearance, Zhang arrived at the University of Illinois to begin a yearlong appointment as a scholar in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. 

As reported by CNN, she had graduated with a master’s degree in environmental engineering last year from Peking University in Beijing.

After traveling to the university from their home in Nanping, China, Zhang’s family issued an emotional plea for the safe return of their daughter.  Her father, 53-year-old factory driver Ronggao Zhang, speaking through a translator in an interview with the Champaign News-Gazette on June 22, addressed his missing daughter:

“Ying, be strong, Dad is waiting for you here.  I hope that being a good person you will be safe forever.”

He also had a message for whoever is responsible for Zhang’s disappearance:

“Give my daughter back.”

As the story has gained international attention, multiple efforts are underway to raise funds to help the search. The FBI has offered a $10,000 reward, and Champaign County Crime Stoppers has partnered with Zhang’s family to offer up to a $40,000 reward for information leading an arrest in the scholar’s disappearance.

In addition, a GoFundMe campaign has raised over $96,000 to assist Zhang’s family, more than triple its initial goal.

A walk and concert organized by the university’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association was scheduled for Thursday, June 29.


Featured Photo: University of Illinois Police