REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: CGTN’s Sean Callebs reflects on the presumed death of Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying, and her family.
I have been covering the story of the disappearance and presumed killing of Zhang Yingying since late June, and this is the second time I have had a chance to have a long conversation with the family.
The Zhang family members are hard-working. They are dedicated parents, and it is agonizing to see the pain they are going through.
The father, Zhang Ronggao speaks in a quiet hushed tone. Yingying’s boyfriend of eight years, Hou Xiaolin has been thrust into the position of speaking publicly for the family, since he speaks English.
Xiaolin always appears in control- calm and thoughtful. But he told me he has moments where he breaks down every day – he just doesn’t do it in front of anyone, especially Yingying’s family.
CGTN’s Sean Callebs sat down with Yingying’s family:
Twice, I have been in court, where the suspect Brendt Christensen has appeared to hear the charges of kidnapping against him. The FBI has told the family they believe the 26-year-old Chinese scholar is no longer alive.
The family has been waiting more than two months, but still, has no answers about Yingying’s fate.
They say they are prepared to stay in the U.S. until they find her.
I have watched Zhang Ronggao, Yingying’s father, look at the suspect in court. He has had no outward emotion. Christensen for his part, has said very little in court.
Ronggao says it is difficult to sit in court. He described his strong feelings when he saw Christensen – the man authorities say is responsible for his daughter’s disappearance– for the first time.
The family says it has faith in investigators – even though they admit the FBI has provided little information about the case.
Ronggao sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump asking him to release all available federal funds to assist in the investigation.
The family has a go-fund-me site. They are trying to raise between $500,000-$1,000,000. It seems like a lot, but Xiaolin says there is a misconception they want this money for travel or living expenses.
Days are painfully long for the family. With little contact from the authorities, the minutes often pass like hours.
Every day, Zhang Ronggao leaves the rented home in Urbana, Illinois to walk to Yingying’s old apartment. It is a 30-minute walk each way.
Zhang Ronggao spends hours in quiet every single day at Yingying’s old apartment.
Xiaolin says he has never asked the father why.
It is a confusing world for the family right now.
In a far off country, where they don’t speak the language and don’t understand the U.S. legal system, they are learning as they go.
Xiaolin says he and Yingying both play guitar. One of the few possessions the young man has with him right now is Yingying’s guitar.
I asked about their favorite songs, and he smiles talking about how much she loved to sing.
But when I asked him to play a bit, he declined.
“In China, music is for celebrating,” Xiaolin said. “Right now, it would not be appropriate.”
Yingying’s parents and boyfriend have been waiting in Urbana, Illinois, and say they don’t want to return to China until she is found.
CGTN’s Sean Callebs had a chance to talk to them.