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Updated 2:40 p.m. Monday:

URBANA — University of Illinois Police are investigating whether UI agriculture scholar Yingying Zhang may have called a ride-hailing service Friday afternoon before she was reported missing, releasing a video showing her entering a black car along North Goodwin Avenue.

"That’s something we’re pursuing," said UI Police spokesman Patrick Wade, though he said that is standard in any missing-person case. "There’s a thousand different scenarios that could have played out here. We have a lot more work to do before we can say what it was and what it wasn’t."

Police are seeking the public’s help in identifying the vehicle, a black Saturn Astra.

Detectives are also examining her cellphone records and working with ride-hailing companies such as Uber to see if Zhang, a visiting scholar from China, may have arranged for a ride, Wade said.

The video released Monday morning, from the B-4 parking garage on North Goodwin, shows Zhang standing on the east side of Goodwin as the vehicle pulls up beside her. She and the driver speak for some time before she enters the vehicle shortly after 2 p.m., which then continues north on Goodwin Avenue.

"The biggest thing right now is we are asking people to watch that video. Our hope is that someone will recognize the vehicle, or have some information about that encounter that we can follow up on," Wade said.

Anyone with information about vehicle or the encounter should call 911 or UI police at 217-333-1216. Non-emergency information may also be emailed to police@illinois.edu.

Friends notified police Saturday that Zhang hadn’t been heard from since about 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Zhang, 26, a visiting researcher with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, had only been in town since April and was staying at the Orchard Downs complex in Urbana, officials said.

She boarded a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District Teal line bus at 1:35 p.m. Friday at the south shelter at the Orchard Downs complex in Urbana. She got off the bus at 1:52 p.m. at Springfield and Mathews avenues in Urbana, police said.

She had been headed to the One North apartment complex on North Lincoln Avenue in Urbana on Friday to sign a lease, texting the property manager at 1:30 p.m. that she was going to be late.

After exiting the bus, Wade said she stood along Goodwin for several minutes before the black car pulled up. Her conversation with the driver also lasted a couple of minutes, he said. The video was edited for length.

Zhang's research focuses on photosynthesis and crop productivity, according to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

She has worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences for about a year, according to the website for the UI's EcoHydro Lab. She received her master’s degree in environmental engineering from Peking University in 2016 and a bachelor’s degree from Sun Yat-Sen University in 2013.

— Julie Wurth

* * *

Update published at 12:46 a.m. Monday:

URBANA — University of Illinois police released more details about the last time a missing scholar was seen Friday in Urbana.

Police spokesman Pat Wade said Yingying Zhang, 26, boarded a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District Teal line bus at 1:35 p.m. Friday at the south shelter at the Orchard Downs complex in Urbana. She got off the bus at 1:52 p.m. at Springfield and Mathews avenues in Urbana and hasn't been seen since then.

Wade said the last time she was seen, Zhang was wearing a charcoal-gray hat with a white logo on the front, a white/pink flannel long-sleeve shirt, a white undershirt, jeans, white shoes and a navy-blue backpack. She has shoulder-length brown hair and wears glasses.

Wade said anyone with information on her whereabouts should call 911 or UI police at 217-333-1216. Non-emergency information may also be emailed to police@illinois.edu.

Wade said police are thankful for the great deal of information they have already received and will be following up on every lead, and every bit of information helps.

***

Original story, published 3:40 p.m. Saturday:

URBANA — University of Illinois police are asking for help finding a missing Urbana woman.

Police department spokesman Pat Wade said friends notified police Saturday that Yingying Zhang, 26, was last heard from about 1:30 p.m. Friday.

UI police reported that she still had not been found as of 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Multiple attempts to contact her at her home and on her cellphone have been unsuccessful, Wade said. Police have also talked to friends and checked local hospitals, as is routine in missing-persons cases.

The visiting scholar from China was headed to the One North apartment complex on North Lincoln Avenue in Urbana on Friday to sign a lease, Wade said.

"She texted the property manager at One North at 1:30 p.m., said she was going to be late and never showed up. That was the last anyone has heard from her," he said.

Friend Chuck Guo told The News-Gazette that Zhang has been in the community about a month and doesn't know very many people.

Wade said she was staying at the Orchard Downs complex in Urbana.

"We've exhausted all our options, so we are asking the public for help. We're not ruling anything out," he said.

Anyone who might have seen Zhang is asked to call UI police at 217-333-1216.

 

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).