Man arrested in connection to missing scholar; Zhang presumed dead

Zhang, 26, was about a month into a yearlong appointment at the University of Illinois' Urbana-Champaign campus when she vanished June 9, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Brent Christensen, 27, of Champaign, was arrested Friday night.

Brendt Christensen, a resident of Champaign who turned 28 on Friday, was charged with kidnapping Zhang, who authorities believe to be dead.

University of IL students and others from the wider community are gathering at the Urbana-Champaign campus to show support for a Chinese scholar who disappeared three weeks ago.

Security video showed Zhang entering a black Saturn Astra in Urbana about 2 p.m. on June 9.

Investigators also said in the court document that Christensen's cell phone had a record of visiting forums and threads titled Abduction 101, Perfect Abduction Fantasy, and Planning a Kidnapping.

In the video, which police released, Zhang was seen standing on the street corner of W. Clark St. and N. Goodwin Ave, before being approached by the vehicle.

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The affidavit filed in support of the complaint says Christensen was under surveillance Thursday when agents overheard him explaining that he kidnapped Zhang. Her friends told police she had gone out to sign an apartment lease.

However, later when police reviewed the surveillance video footage of Zhang's last appearance, it was found the vehicle which Zhang entered had a cracked hubcap on the front passenger side, which matched Christensen's auto and made the Federal Bureau of Investigation put him under surveillance.

(Courtesy of the University of Illinois Police Department via AP).

One of those, belonging to Christensen, was first seen in an apartment complex parking lot on June 12 — days after Zhang went missing — and investigators questioned him.

The FBI said they located the vehicle and its link to Christensen on Tuesday.

Hundreds of people gathered at the University of IL to show support for a Chinese scholar who disappeared three weeks ago. Zhang has been researching crop photosynthesis and was expected to begin work on her the fall at the University of IL, according to the school. Christensen said the woman panicked after he apparently made a wrong turn and he let her out in a residential area. Zhang had a position at the University of IL that would last for a year, "at the university's department of natural resources and environmental sciences".

  • Rogelio Becker