300 days after she disappeared, UI scholar hasn't been forgotten

300 days after she disappeared, UI scholar hasn't been forgotten

URBANA — It's been 300 days since visiting Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang was last seen entering a vehicle at the corner of Goodwin and Clark streets, but the memorial there still occasionally receives fresh flowers.

"There's someone on our file that calls periodically to take flowers over there for her," said Phyllis Valentine, a manager at Campus Florist. "It's a tragic thing that happened, but it's nice that her family can see that people still care."

Ms. Zhang came to the University of Illinois last April to study agriculture, and while on her way to sign a lease for a new apartment June 9, she entered a Saturn Astra around 2 p.m.

Three weeks later, former UI physics grad student Brendt Christensen was arrested and has been charged with kidnapping resulting in Ms. Zhang's death, though her body hasn't been found.

He remains in custody at the Livingston County Jail in Pontiac and faces the death penalty at his trial scheduled to begin almost exactly a year from now, with jury selection beginning April 3, 2019, and the trial starting April 9.

Steve Beckett, the lawyer for Ms. Zhang's family, said he last spoke with them after the trial was pushed back from February to next April.

"They understood because it's been explained to them about why there's the delay, but they're still concerned that this much time can pass," Beckett said Wednesday. "They're obviously looking for closure, but the kind of closure they want they may not be able to get in the court system, which is finding their daughter or at least finding her remains."

While Ms. Zhang is presumed dead by the FBI, the investigation is still considered active.

"It's still ongoing. We're still looking for her," said FBI spokesman Brad Ware. "There's really not much more I can say."

"We are still investigating with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, but we're not able to say much else as this is still very much an active investigation and a pending court case," said Pat Wade, spokesman for the UI police.

Until there's some resolution, Beckett said, "the family's frustrations continue, and you can expect them to continue."