CHAMPAIGN — There are now two different rewards for information leading to an arrest in the disappearance of a University of Illinois scholar visiting from China.
With Yingying Zhang’s family members on hand, the UI and Champaign County Crime Stoppers announced a reward of up to $40,000 for information in Zhang’s June 9 disappearance.
Crime Stoppers President John Hecker said the reward is the largest in the organization’s 31-year history.
"We have never offered a reward of this magnitude," he said. "But this is obviously a very heinous case."
Hecker said every penny of the $40,000 reward was raised through a GoFundMe account.
"We are serving as a conduit," Hecker said.
UI Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs Robin Kaler said the U of I Community Credit Union worked quickly to help set up the account that accumulated enough money to create the reward.
Donations are still being accepted at gofundme.com/missing-u-of-i-scholar or the credit union’s branches at 2201 S. First St., C; 206 E. University Ave., U; and in the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., U.
What sort of information are authorities looking for?
"Things that would help us would be identifying someone who was involved or somebody who was driving that vehicle, the location of the vehicle or anything that might lead us to find her whereabouts," Hecker said.
Tipsters are asked to contact Crime Stoppers by phone at 217-373-8477, online at 373tips.com or through a free smartphone app called "P3 Tips."
Tipsters are always completely anonymous when contacting Crime Stoppers. All tips are electronically stripped of any identifying information and processed by a third-party answering service, not law enforcement.
"There is no way we can trace the individual or know his or her identity," Hecker said.
Zhang has been missing since June 9; she was last seen getting into a black Saturn Astra near the corner of Goodwin Avenue and Clark Street on the UI campus in Urbana.
"We have had a young lady being apprehended," Hecker said. "Days have gone by, and we don’t know anything that has transpired. There are unique dynamics and twists and turns to this that differentiate this case from others."
"We are following through with all the leads, and part of the process is canvassing for videos from cameras from a number of businesses throughout this community," said UI Deputy Police Chief Tony Brown.
The reward announced Monday night is separate from the $10,000 offered over the weekend by the FBI, which sent four agents to Champaign-Urbana late last week to investigate Zhang’s disappearance.
Kaler stressed there are two different rewards with different rules.
"On Saturday, we secured approval for that $10,000 reward for the location or whereabouts," said Brad Ware, a public information officer for the FBI. "It is very important for the community to come together."
Ware said those wishing to share tips with the FBI should call 800-CALL-FBI or go online to tips.fbi.gov.
Information provided to the FBI will be reviewed promptly by a special agent or a professional staff member.
Ware said FBI tipsters may be called to testify in order to get the reward.
"When we conduct an investigation, that person would become a witness," Ware said. "That is one of the big differences between Crime Stoppers and us conducting an investigation."
Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, stared ahead silently throughout the news conference, occasionally folding his hands.
Kaler said Ronggao Zhang arrived in Champaign-Urbana on Saturday with Yingying Zhang’s aunt Liqin Ye and boyfriend, Xiaolin Hou. She said all three are staying in university housing. She doesn’t know how long they will remain in the area.
The family members were accompanied by about 20 members of the UI Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which has been providing home-cooked meals for them. Some of the UI students were holding back tears throughout the presentation.
"I really thank the Chinese Students and Scholars Association; they have been amazing," Kaler said. "We are a very tight-knit family here at the University of Illinois, but I have never seen a family as tight-knit and supportive as the association."
Kaler said the UI is grateful for the assistance the FBI and the Illinois State Police have provided in the search for Yingying Zhang.
When one student asked if the Crime Stoppers reward money would be paid for a tip led to Zhang’s safe recovery but without an arrest, Hecker said yes.
"Let’s say we were told to go to 503 E. Maple St. in Urbana and go in the basement, and Yingying is there," Hecker said. "Yes, we would make payment. It would be worth it to find her."
"Our goal is to find her and bring her home safely," Kaler said. "There is no other more important thing."