The trial of the man accused in the disappearance of Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang is set to begin Monday. Authorities say Brendt Christensen kidnapped and killed Yingying, who was last seen in June 2017. Jury selection alone could take up two weeks.
CGTN’s Dan Williams reports.
A small garden has been put in place to remember Yingying Zhang, the 26 year old Chinese scholar who went missing almost two years ago. The garden rests in the location that surveillance video recorded Yingying getting into a black Saturn Astra.
She has not been seen since.
Her family has now returned to Illinois ahead of the trial of her accused kidnapper.
“The family is under a great deal of stress. They are in an uncomfortable setting, an unknown setting for them. It’s their daughter. It’s their daughter that they spoke to every day and they are no longer speaking to her every day,” said Steve Beckett, who is an Illinois-based attorney representing Zhang’s family.
Brendt Christensen, 29, is charged with kidnapping resulting in death. Federal prosecutors have already signaled their intent to seek the death penalty should he be convicted.
He has entered a plea of not guilty.
But authorities believe Christensen was behind the wheel of that Saturn, when Yingying disappeared, and it is believed that he ultimately killed her, though a body was never found.
The disappearance shook staff and students at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
“I think for the whole University community, it was just horrifying. Many of our Chinese students were very frightened. It was very unsettling for everyone, but I think a lot of our students thought was she targeted because she was Chinese and that made it especially scary for folks,” said Robin Kaler, Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs at University of Illinois.
There are many questions that remain following the events of June 2017 and the disappearance of Yingying.
Her friends and family hope that some of those answers can be found over the course of the next few weeks and months.
Beckett says the family still has questions: “they want answers and they are assuming, the answers they are getting, won’t be the answers that they want so they want consequences.”
Her family still holds out hope she somehow escaped.
But federal investigators have made clear, it is their belief, that is not the case.