China / Across America

Reported sightings of scholar checked

By Ruinan Zhang and William Hennelly in New York (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-07-11 10:11

A news report that missing Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying was spotted by several people in southern Illinois raised the hopes of family members and friends but so far hasn't yielded a result.

KMOV, a CBS television affiliate in St. Louis, Missouri reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating possible sightings of Zhang, a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, who went missing on June 9.

A former doctoral student at the university has been charged with her kidnapping in the case.

According to KMOV, numerous people reported seeing Zhang in Salem, Illinois, which is 120 miles south of the university.

Police in Salem said detectives have investigated but have not found any concrete leads.

"Throughout the course of the investigation, which is ongoing, we will follow up on all tips and leads that were received. We continue to ask the public for information leading to the location of Ms. Zhang," Brad Ware, a media specialist at the FBI office in Springfield, Illinois, told China Daily via email. "Because the case is ongoing, we cannot comment on any specifics regarding the investigation," he said.

Wang Zhidong, a lawyer representing Zhang's family, confirmed to China Daily that family members went to Salem.

'They are hoping Yingying can come back to her family," said Wang. "They never gave up this hope."

Wang said Zhang's family members went to Salem on Thursday and searched the town for a day. He said there were seven people who stated that they had seen Zhang, and five of them were quite certain.

One of them said that she remembered Zhang told her that she came from China and was a student at Illinois.

The other one said Zhang was in Salem on June 16, selling jewelry to local stores.

Surveillance video from June 9 shows Zhang getting into a car in Urbana, believed to be driven by Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign.

Authorities located the car, a black Saturn Astra. Christensen was subsequently arrested and charged, and on July 5 was ordered held without bail by the US District Court in Urbana.

During that court hearing, prosecutors revealed that Christensen attended a vigil for Zhang on June 29; made statements about the characteristics of the ideal victim and described how Zhang fought and resisted when he brought her back to his apartment.

A preliminary hearing in the case has been scheduled for Friday; it could be waived if the grand jury returns an indictment before then.

A total of $50,000 in reward money is being offered to anyone with information that leads to Zhang's whereabouts.

Contact the writers at

Hot Topics