'We feel helpless'

'We feel helpless'

Family and friends of Yingying Zhang said they won't give up until the missing Chinese scholar is found and will continue to raise money to possibly hire a private investigator for the case.

They hope their direct appeal to the president of the United States will help advance the search for Ms. Zhang, who disappeared June 9 and is presumed dead by the FBI.

Ms. Zhang's parents sent a letter last week to Donald Trump requesting that "all available federal law enforcement and investigatory resources be used to find our daughter as soon as possible."

"Our wish is very simple: we just hope that the president understands our situation and is able to give us his support if he can," Xiaolin Hou, the boyfriend of Ms. Zhang, said at an emotional press conference today. Hou talked on behalf of the family, at times using a translator.

While thanking police and the FBI for their efforts to find Ms. Zhang, Hou expressed frustration at the pace of the search.

“In this new country we’re not familiar with the law, customs and culture,” Hou said.

"We totally understand and respect their way. But for us it seems that this journey is too long and we don't know where we are. And we don't know when we can get to the end," Hou said. "We feel helpless."

The family has met with the FBI at least a dozen times, according to family lawyers. Hou said investigators shared "good news" about the evidence they've collected, but no details and no breakthrough on where Ms. Zhang may be.

The family hasn't hired a private investigator yet because it doesn't want to interfere with the police investigation and hasn't raised enough money, Hou said. A family spokesman estimated that cost and related expenses at $500,000 to $1 million.

"We do not really want to hinder or interfere with their process," he said.

He said the family hasn't discussed when it might hire a private investigator.

"However, if there is no further news about where Yingying is, and we are able to raise enough funds, we would like to do more," he said.

Hou asked for the public's continued support and donations to the GoFundMe account set up to help the family and the search for Ms. Zhang. So far it's raised about $137,000 toward a $500,000 goal.

The money is designated for several purposes, among them the family's living expenses, including flights to the United States, passports and visa application fees; legal assistance, court-related costs, and ads to follow leads and keep the case in the public eye; and a $50,000 reward for information that could help find Ms. Zhang. To date, about $70,000 has been spent, officials said.

The money is in a trust managed by Urbana attorney David Thies; Greg Anderson, senior vice president of the UI Community Credit Union; and Guofang Maio, a UI colleague of Ms. Zhang’s, officials said.

Hou and Ms. Zhang's father, Ronggao Zhang, read the English and Chinese language versions of the letter to President Trump.

"As a loving father to your own children, you can understand what we are going through. Yingying means the world to us. She has always made us proud. She is a diligent and gifted student, and a generous and caring person," the letter said.

"We know Yingying would be with us if she could. Consistent with our deeply-held Chinese cultural values, we cannot imagine returning to China without her."

The letter said Ms. Zhang's parents have faith that the federal authorities are working hard to find their daughter, but "with each passing day, the chances of finding Yingying alive decrease."

Hou said Yingying's mother, Lifeng Ye, who arrived in Champaign Saturday, overcame health problems and "great pain in her heart" caused by her daughter's disappearance to travel to the United States. She fainted when she heard the news, and could not eat or sleep, he said.

And Ms. Zhang's father, who has been in Champaign-Urbana since June, asks Hou the same question every day: "why there's still no update about where Yingying is. And every day he just walks to Yingying's apartment from our apartment and just stays there a long time. I never ask him why. But I think this is the only way he has now to cure his wound" in his heart, Hou said.

During the press conference, Ye cried quietly on the shoulder of her son, Xinyang Zhang, 23, who traveled with her to Champaign-Urbana.

Ye sobbed when UI Chancellor Robert Jones presented her with a copy of a diary written by her daughter. She later had to be led from the room, wailing in Chinese, "I want my daughter back."

Hou said the family doesn't know whether Ms. Zhang is dead or alive, but "as time passes the possibilities of finding her alive is very, very low. ... It is very hard for us to go through each day," he said.

At first they hoped she was just missing, then that she was alive even though she’d been kidnapped, he said. Now they just want to know where she is.
“We lose our hope again and again,” he said.

Hou called Ms. Zhang a "kind and brave girl. She would not give in to anybody as long as there is a gleam of hope. We will never give up on her either."

"At the beginning when we said we will never give up, maybe you will not believe us," he said. "But now after the struggle of two months ... I am here to tell you again, we will not give up until we find her."

Hou said it's important in Chinese culture to bring a deceased person home for a dignified burial so they can "rest in peace."

"I have promised Yingying I will protect her and I will stay with her," Hou said. "I missed the first one, but I will never miss the second one."

The family and UI officials also announced a yellow ribbon campaign in support of Ms. Zhang and her family, with ribbons distributed to the first 1,000 people who donate to the campaign starting Tuesday. The ribbons are available at four locations on campus: Mumford Hall, Loomis lab, the UI Public Safety Building and the School of Social Work.

Hou thanked the public, police, Chinese officials, UI colleagues and members of the media for their support throughout the ordeal, saying it “deeply touches our hearts.”

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Lostinspace wrote on August 22, 2017 at 4:08 pm

It seems odd that there is no information on the *form* the search is taking.  Have there been sweeps of fields, wooded areas, lakes, etc.?  Is the public involved at all?  Does the FBI have information it is not sharing?

You have to feel for these people, stranded in a strange land, day after day.