CHAMPAIGN — Yingying Zhang’s family has been told that her remains may be in a landfill in Vermilion County.
“The information was provided to the prosecution under an immunity agreement. This information came from the defense lawyers, and that information indicated that the remains, as it traced down, could be found in a landfill in Vermilion County,” said the family’s attorney, Steve Beckett.
He had planned to provide more information to media Friday afternoon, but the news conference is being rescheduled for next week. Ms. Zhang's parents, who don't speak English, had planned to join him, but want to wait until their other lawyer, Zhidong Wang, returns from China, Beckett said.
Meanwhile, Monday’s memorial service for Yingying Zhang at First Baptist Church at Savoy has been postponed, according to Beckett.
“The family was very apologetic, realizing what we put into planning it,” Pastor Chuck Moore said. “We want to do what’s in their best interest and when they’re ready for it. We’re totally supportive of their decision.”
Ms. Zhang was kidnapped and killed two years ago by Brendt Christensen, who was convicted and sentenced last month to life in prison.
Despite extensive search efforts, her body has never been found, and it’s never been clear exactly what Christensen did with her remains.
The family found out the information about the possible location of Ms. Zhang's remains after the trial on July 25 when they met with prosecutors, Beckett said.
It's also unclear when Christensen was granted immunity and shared this information.
In December 2017, about six months after Ms. Zhang was last seen, Christensen’s lawyers and the prosecution began negotiating a possible plea agreement, but that eventually fell through.
The prosecutors offered to take the death penalty off the table if Christensen revealed the location of Ms. Zhang’s remains.
His lawyers suggested a modification that would make the deal contingent only on providing information about her remains.
Christensen's lawyers said finding Ms. Zhang’s remains was something “over which he had no control. … He could not guarantee that the victim’s remains would be found.”
Throughout the trial, FBI agents and UI police detectives described the extensive search for Ms. Zhang after she went missing.
They testified about working 20-hour days in the weeks after she was kidnapped, searching garbage bags at Centennial Park, the Murdock Mine 30 miles south of Champaign and an isolated area near Olympian Drive and Interstate 57.
On Friday, University of Illinois Police Chief Craig Stone praised all the agencies that cooperated on the investigation.
"The first two weeks, or maybe the first month, we had to force people to go home because they wanted to stay at it," he said. "They wanted to solve this case."
And the search continued, with an FBI agent describing a search of Clinton Lake in November 2017 and another of Allerton Park in 2018.
And after Christensen was sentenced to life in prison, U.S. Attorney John Milhiser said investigators would continue searching for Ms. Zhang.
“The efforts to locate Yingying have not stopped,” he said. “They started two years ago and they’ll continue.”