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Man Arrested and Charged with Kidnapping of Chinese Student, Who Is Now Presumed Dead by Authorities

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A man has been arrested in connection with the disappearance of 26-year-old Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang, a visiting student at the University of Illinois who was last seen on June 9 and is now believed to be dead.

Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign, Illinois, was arrested by FBI agents on Friday and charged with kidnapping, the Department of Justice said in a press release.

He was under law enforcement surveillance, authorities said, when agents overheard him explaining on June 29 that he had kidnapped Zhang.

“Based on this, and other facts uncovered during the investigation of this matter, law enforcement agents believe that Ms. Zhang is no longer alive,” the Dept. of Justice said.

Yingying Zhang
University of Illinois Police

Zhang — a scholar in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences — was last seen on CCTV footage walking on the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champagn campus, getting into the front passengers seat of a black Saturn Astra hatchback at about 2:00 p.m. on June 9.

In the video, which police released, Zhang was seen standing on the street corner of W. Clark St. and N. Goodwin Ave, before being approached by the vehicle.

Authorities previously said they used vehicle records to identify and interview registered drivers of the car. They also reached out to rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft in addition to checking cell phone records, the bulletin said.

In Friday’s press release, authorities identified Christensen as the driver of the Saturn Astra, saying he was identified by security video.

A court document says the front passenger door, where Zhang would have been sitting, was cleaned “to a more diligent extent.”

Members of Zhang’s family, the Chinese consulate, and University of Illinois officials have been advised of Christensen’s arrest, the statement read. They’ve also been told about the evidence in the possession of the FBI.

Zhang was one month into a yearlong program at the university studying photosynthesis and crop productivity before she went missing, a university spokesperson previously told PEOPLE.

She is described by police as an Asian woman, 5 -feet 4-inches tall, 110 lbs., with shoulder length black hair and brown eyes. At the time of her disappearance she was wearing glasses, a white and pink flannel print long sleeve shirt with jeans, white shoes, and a navy backpack.

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On Monday, Zhang’s family announced they are working with local Crime Stoppers to offer a reward of $40,000 for any information leading to an arrest, a previous police bulletin stated. The FBI has also offered a separate award of $10,000.

Christensen’s federal court appearance in Urbana is scheduled for July 3 at 10:00 a.m. local time. He is being helped in law enforcement custody.

Anyone with information can submit anonymous tips to Champaign County Crime Stoppers by calling 217-373-TIPS (8477), online at http://373tips.com or contact the University of Illinois Police Department at 217-333-1216. Non-emergency information may also be emailed to police@illinois.edu.