Christensen sentencing Zhang family

Yingying Zhang of China, center, is shown with her father, Ronggao Zhang, and mother, Lifeng Ye, in a photo submitted by the government during the sentencing hearing for Brendt Christensen, who was convicted of kidnapping and killing her on June 9, 2017.

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Monday’s memorial service for Yingying Zhang at First Baptist Church at Savoy has been postponed, Steve Beckett, an attorney for her family, confirmed on Friday.

“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.”


SAVOY — Church leaders plan to hold a memorial service Monday for Yingying Zhang, the visiting University of Illinois scholar who was kidnapped and killed two summers ago.

The service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church, 1602 S. Prospect Ave., Savoy.

“Our major goal for the memorial service is to offer comfort and hope to individuals that are grieving,” said First Baptist Church Pastor Chuck Moore.

He will lead the service with Tim Bossenbroek, pastor of Hessel Park Christian Reformed Church.

“There will be some friends who will be speaking about Yingying. I’ll share a brief meditation, and scripture and prayers will be read,” Moore said.

The service will have both English and Chinese translations, Moore said, and a Chinese choir will sing a couple songs.

The pastors met with Ms. Zhang’s family Monday to plan the service.

Her father, Ronggao Zhang, is planning to speak, and a letter from Xiaolin Hou, whom Ms. Zhang was planning to marry, will be read.

Her father, mother, brother and fiance returned to Champaign-Urbana this summer for the trial of her murderer, Brendt Christensen, who was found guilty and sentenced earlier this month to life in prison.

Both pastors said their churches have several international students who attend their services, including some who knew Ms. Zhang and have gotten to know her family.

“We have several Chinese students who attend our church,” Moore said. “So it was just a networking connection, and we knew our facility was big enough to handle about 400 people.”

The service is open to the public.

“We have quite a few international students at Hessel Park,” Bossenbroek said. “And a former member of ours who is Taiwanese came to know the family while they were here and has maintained contact with them.”

Anyone wishing to send flowers should have them delivered by 11:30 a.m. Monday, Moore said, and the church’s office opens at 8:30 a.m.

The local community — and especially the local Chinese community — has embraced Ms. Zhang’s family, providing groceries, meals and what comfort is possible.

Her mom is a homemaker, and her dad is a truck driver. Neither speak English nor went to college. They placed great hope in their daughter, who was ranked No. 2 at her college, behind only her boyfriend.

She came to the University of Illinois in April 2017 as a visiting scholar with the hope of receiving her doctorate.

On June 9, 2017, she was looking for a new apartment in north Urbana but was running late and missed a connecting bus.

While she was waiting for another bus, Christensen pulled up, and Ms. Zhang was last seen about 2 p.m. entering his car.

He took her back to his apartment and killed her.

Despite extensive search efforts by the FBI and UI police, her body has never been found.

At the memorial service, Ms. Zhang’s family plans to have a small wooden box with some of her personal belongings, and a framed photo of Ms. Zhang will be on display.

“Because there are no remains to be buried, the family wants to do something that would symbolize closure,” Moore said.