It has been an agonizing two and a half months of waiting for the family of Zhang Yingying. The missing Chinese scholar was kidnapped in the U.S. state of Illinois and is presumed dead. She was last seen getting into a dark vehicle in early June.
The family hoped for a speedy trial for a suspect but his court case has been pushed back to February.
CGTN’s Sean Callebs has just returned from Illinois where he spent considerable time talking to the family about the ordeal.
The last images of Zhang Yingying are closed circuit video that shows her getting into a stranger’s car. In the two-and-a-half months Yingying has been missing, the family said that authorities have told them very little.
Through tears, her mother pleads “Help us find Yingying.”
“It is very hard for them. They don’t know the law, they don’t know the customs. They don’t know the language,” explained Hou Xiaolin, Yingying’s boyfriend.
There have been very public events,but the family waits in private. Nearly 100-kilometers away, in a solitary jail cell, the suspect in the kidnapping, Brendt Christensen, waits for his trial.
Zhang Ronggao, Yingying’s father recalls the first time he saw Christensen in court. “My first thought is to bring him to justice as soon as possible because she is really an innocent girl. She did nothing wrong. Why did this happen to her? I hate him so much,” said the grieving father.
On the other side, the Bruno family law firm, the three defense counselors from Urbana, Illinois, fighting for his freedom. “It’s easy for people to assume that this is a very difficult, unpleasant thing for attorneys like us but this is what we do. This is our job,” described Evan Bruno, a defense lawyer.
It’s an emotionally-charged case that has attracted a host of international attention. Tom Bruno has been a criminal defense lawyer 37 years and says he never had a case with this kind of intrigue. “I have not. I have not. You know it is the international level of it all that makes it very interesting,” said the defense attorney.
The case has spawned huge attention in China and among Chinese students studying in the U.S. who aren’t familiar with the United States legal system. The bedrock which reads, presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Heartbroken, the Zhang family lived in a sparsely-filled rented house in Urbana and waited for news.
Each day, Ronggao made a silent, lonely pilgrimage of walking to Yingying’s old apartment. “I think, as I walk down that street, recounting the memories of Ying; from her as a little girl to now. I keep waiting and hope that one day she can return to my side,” explained Zhang.
The FBI has told the family they have information that indicates Yingying is no longer alive.
Defense lawyer Evan Bruno hears it all the time: “Why doesn’t Christensen say where the body is?”
“I have had countless people say that. They’ll yell at me on the street, ‘tell me where the body is?’ That’s not something I am going to get into. It’s not something I can talk about,” Bruno summarized.
Bruno said Christensen is exercising his legal right to remain silent. So, a family’s painful wait continues. All of them promise to remain in the U.S., until Yingying is found. Xiaolin says the vow mirrors an old Chinese saying.
“A fallen leaf returns to its roots. Yingying is just like the fallen leaf and hometown is the roots. So, it is our duty to find her, and bring her back,” said Hou.