Brent Christensen denied bail in first hearing of Yingying Zhang’s kidnapping
Brent Christensen, a physics graduate, changed his story about picking up the missing woman, say investigators. Photo: Police Handout 
 
Brent Christensen, a former PhD student, appeared in court late Monday Beijing time charged with kidnapping of Yingying Zhang, a missing University of Illinois visiting scholar from China. It is reported by the Dragon TV that Christensen pleaded not guilty while the court denied bail to him before the next hearing set at 3pm on July 5.
 
Hundreds of people gathered outside the court in the city of Urbana during the nine-minute hearing. It was reported by the Southern Metropolis Daily earlier that some local Chinese American attorneys had called on local Chinese people to participate in the hearing in a bid to “exert influence on the court ruling”.
 
Christensen, 28, was arrested on Friday in connection with last month’s mysterious disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, who is now presumed by the law enforcement agencies to be dead. 
 
The case has drawn wide concern among Chinese netizens before galvanizing the local overseas Chinese community. Zhang, known to be a factory driver’s daughter, acquired a Master’s degree from Peking University before being assigned to the University of Illinois at the Urbana-Champaign by her employer, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China’s top scientific research institution.
 
Surveillance video showed Zhang getting into a black Saturn Astra car on June 9 before going missing, and authorities claimed Christensen to be the driver at the time. Based on an affidavit, authorities examined Christensen’s phone and found he visited a website entitled “Abduction 101”. He was arrested because monitoring devices installed secretly by the agencies had caught him explaining how he kidnapped Zhang.
 
Lei Hong, consul general of China in Chicago, met with Zhang’s family on Saturday and expressed his condolences. Hong urged the US judiciary to hold a fair trial. Hong was quoted as describing the crime as “making one’s hackles rise”, which immediately aroused suspicions on China’s social media that the official knew more details than what was publicly known.
 
“The authorities must have acquired proof of Zhang’s death, even though it’s not open to the public yet,” a netizen commented on Sina Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging website.
 
The case has had a chilling effect on the society in China. Many Chinese parents who had previously planned to send their children to study in the United States are giving it a second thought. Recent days have seen both Chinese media and social websites quoting worried parents voicing their complaints about lack of gun control and unreliable police force in the US that has remained a top destination for Chinese students.
 
Before Christensen’s arrest, Zhang’s father Ronggao Zhang maintained hope that her daughter would come back safe. In an interview with the Beijing Youth Daily, he had said “once my daughter is found, I will never let her visit the US again.”  

 


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