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The search for Yingying Zhang: Day 26

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URBANA — Brendt Christensen will be held in jail indefinitely until he goes on trial in the kidnapping of Yingying Zhang, U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long ruled Wednesday.

Long ordered the man accused of kidnapping the missing University of Illinois visiting scholar held without bond, calling him both a flight risk and a danger to the community because of evidence presented by assistant U.S. attorney Bryan Freres.

Among the most serious allegations laid out in the federal criminal complaint, not known publicly until Wednesday:

While under surveillance during a Thursday vigil for Ms. Zhang outside Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Christensen allegedly explained the "characteristics of an ideal victim."

— He was allegedly captured on a recording picking out other potential victims at that same public vigil.

— There also exists audio of Christensen describing how he kidnapped Ms. Zhang and how she "fought and resisted" when he brought her back to his Champaign apartment.

— He made a threat to the safety of another person to whom he provided incriminating information.

"The facts speak to the very danger the defendant presents to the community,"Freres said."The circumstances of the case indicate the defendant used violence."

Freres also noted that Ms. Zhang has not been found.

Long said the evidence againstChristensen"seemed strong."

Christensen, 28, was represented in court by attorneys Tom and Evan Bruno. With Ms. Zhang's famly members in the courtroom, the defendant did not speak, only nodding in response to Long's questions, during a hearing that lasted about 32 minutes.

WhenChristensen'sattorneys argued that keeping their client in the Macon County Jail, about an hour away, put them at a disadvantage, Long said: "Those issues are not for today."

Afterward, speaking outside the courthouse, Evan Bruno said Wednesday's ruling "is not surprising to us," explaining that it's not unusual for bail to be denied in a case like this.

Asked about the evidence against his client, Tom Bruno said: "Of course, it’s not really evidence at all yet. One of the first principles of the American system of justice is the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you.

"There was certainly no cross-examination when it’s a one-sided recitation of what the government hopes to prove.

"We’re entitled to test that evidence to see if it’s reliable."

Christensen, 28, of Champaign, a former UI graduate student from Wisconsin, was making his second court appearance at the federal courthouse in Urbana on Wednesday afternoon.

His next court date is a preliminary hearing on July 14, unless a grand jury returns an indictment before then. Even if it does, it’s possible Christensen could be arraigned in court that day, said Sharon Paul, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office. That’s when he would officially enter a plea, she said.

Christensen was arrested Friday and charged Monday in federal court with kidnapping Zhang, who has been missing since June 9. He has been held since then in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the Macon County Jail.

Paul said the federal district has two grand juries that meet once a month, one in Springfield and one in Peoria. At least one is scheduled to meet before July 14, Paul said.

Christensen is accused of luring Ms. Zhang into his car as she was waiting for a bus June 9 in Urbana and then holding her hostage in his Champaign apartment. Ms. Zhang has not been seen since, and authorities said she is presumed dead.

Prosecuting the case are assistant U.S. attorneys Freres and Eugene Miller, both UI alumni.

11:45 a.m.

A University of Wisconsin physics professor who worked closely with Brendt Christensen when he was an undergraduate there was shocked to learn of his arrest on kidnapping charges, calling him a good student and "not unusual in any way."

Christensen, who faces a court hearing Wednesday afternoon in connection with the disappearance of visiting scholar Yingying Zhang, worked in Madison with Professor Matthew Herndon on experiments related to the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest and most powerful particle accelerator, located in Geneva, Switzerland.

"We met weekly in order for me to direct his research. To me he seemed to be a completely typical student, not unusual in any way," Herndon said.

Herndon said Christensen was a student in his undergraduate particle physics class during the 2011-12 school year and worked as an undergraduate researcher for him in 2012-13. He was a good student and completed a thesis research project studying simulated Compact Muon Solenoid data at the Large Hadron Collider to understand the future prospects of that experiment, Herndon said.

"I'm shocked to learn of the crimes he is suspected of committing and that the evidence seems strong that he is guilty. Nothing from my experience with him would have led me to suspect that he would commit crimes of any type," Herndon said.

"My deepest sympathies lie with the victim and her family. Also, I hope there is some possibility that she may still be found unharmed," he said.

Ms. Zhang has been missing since June 9. Federal authorities say a black car she was last seen entering on that day, on her way to sign a new lease in Urbana, was Christensen's, and that they caught him on audiotape saying he had kidnapped her and held her at his apartment.

She has not been found, and authorities believe she is no longer alive.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).