Copy of diary turned over to missing UI scholar's family

Copy of diary turned over to missing UI scholar's family

CHAMPAIGN — One poignant piece of evidence in the FBI investigation of Yingying Zhang's disappearance is a small gray journal with the words, "My Little Diary" on the cover.

The book, with Ms. Zhang's last recorded thoughts, was swept up by investigators from Ms. Zhang's apartment in the early days of the investigation and taken to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Va.

Now a replica of the diary, put together by the University of Illinois, is in the hands of her parents.

UI Chancellor Robert Jones presented the family with a copy of the diary at a press conference Tuesday.

"Obviously the family would like very much to take Yingying home. Right now that is not possible," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler, who spearheaded the project. "So what we were hoping to do was to give them a little piece of what was in her heart and mind, before she disappeared, hoping that might bring them a small amount of comfort."

The diary is written mostly in Chinese, except for the final entry on the last page: "Life is too short to be ordinary."

"All of us here at the University of Illinois continue to share in your frustration adn great sorrow over the loss of Yingying," Jones told the family. "None of us has the words that can take away the sadness, but we hope that you might find some comfort and some solace in Yingying's own words."

Ms. Zhang's mother, Lifeng Ye, cried throughout the press conference, her head on her son's shoulder, and sobbed after the diary was presented to the family.

Kaler and the UI Police Department approached the FBI last month about the idea. The diary is still considered evidence, Kaler said, so the FBI wanted to maintain control of it to ensure a proper "chain of custody," as it would for any evidence in a criminal case.

The diary was sent via FedX to the FBI office in Springfield and then transferred to the UI Police Department, said spokesman Patrick Wade.

UI Police Officer Tara Hurless escorted Kaler to Dixon Graphics in Champaign, which made digital copies of the pages — written by hand in Chinese — and reprinted them.

"The book could never be out of her sight," Kaler said.

Hurless and those who handled the book at Dixon had to wear gloves. Dixon employee Ilia Bricker then worked with the scanned images to crop and center the pages for printing.

"It was kind of hard to work on just knowing that she's missing," Bricker said.

Kaler and Hurless then took the diary to Lincoln Bookbindery in Urbana, where owner Chris Hohn donated the labor to recreate the dark gray cover and bind the book. Two copies were made, one for Ms. Zhang's father and one for her mother.

"We were more than happy to accommodate the gesture," Hohn said. "I think it touched something in the whole community, and we're part of that."

About a fourth of the book bindery's business involves graduate student dissertations and theses, said Hohn, who enjoys meeting the students.

"One of our feelings was, we might have met (Ms. Zhang) eventually, so we're doing this instead of her dissertation," Hohn said.

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