‘Every day is like a year’: Family of Chinese scholar presumed murdered still desperate for answers as they return home without her body

The family of a Chinese scholar who police believe was murdered is leaving the United States without her body, the Associated Press reports.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, Yingying Zhang vanished in June in Urbana, Illinois, where she was to begin her doctoral studies at the University of Illinois.

Although Zhang’s body has not been located, authorities believe former graduate student Brendt Christensen, 28, is responsible for her death.

Investigators have not said how Zhang died, but Christensen has been charged with kidnapping that resulted in death “in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim,” according to court documents.

Christensen could face the death penalty if convicted.

Authorities believe that Zhang had missed a bus and was concerned that she would be late to sign a lease for a new apartment when Christensen allegedly picked her up in his car.

Surveillance cameras recorded her getting into a black Saturn Astra, which the FBI claims was cleaned to conceal evidence.

Police reportedly captured audio surveillance of Christensen discussing how he abducted Zhang and brought her to his apartment. She “fought and resisted” as he kept her against her will, according to authorities.

Christensen also made references to the “ideal victim” in the audio surveillance, but investigators have not said to whom Christensen was talking with or how they obtained the audio.

Court records show Christensen in April visited a fetish networking site on his phone, in which he viewed material titled “perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.”

Christensen was spotted at a campus vigil for Zhang in June before police took him into custody.

His attorneys have asked to delay a trial until next October, claiming they need to assess reported sightings of Zhang and claims of suspicious people near her apartment before she went missing.

For Zhang’s family, her disappearance has been devastating.

Zhang’s boyfriend, mother, father and brother flew to the United States when they learned she was missing, hoping they would be reunited.

They chose to stay when authorities delivered the news that Zhang is most likely dead, so they could bring her remains back to China.

But now, they have decided to return home.

“We don’t know where she is, and I don’t know how to spend the rest of my life without my daughter,” said Zhang’s mother, Lifeng Ye. “I can’t really sleep well at night. … I often dream of my daughter, and she’s right there with me. I want to ask the mother of the suspect, please talk to her son and ask him what he did to my daughter. Where is she now? I want to know the answer.”

Ronggao Zhang, Zhang’s father, has walked by his daughter’s apartment nearly every day for months — a routine has says helps him grieve.

Living through his daughter’s disappearance, he says, has felt agonizingly slow.

“Every day is like a year,” he said.


[Feature image: Associated Press]