Authorities have charged a former Ph.D. candidate with kidnapping a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yingying Zhang, originally from China, is now presumed dead.
Zhang disappeared three weeks ago, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune reported that Zhang left the campus for lunch, and when she failed to catch a bus on her return trip, video shows her accepting a ride from someone driving a black Saturn. Her disappearance has attracted widespread attention not only on campus but in China as well.
Authorities say Brendt Christensen, a former Ph.D. candidate at the institution, was the driver. He had been pursuing a Ph.D., but switched his path to pursue a master's degree, which he earned in May. He had taught courses at the institution, and his arrest took those who knew him at Illinois by surprise.
"He was completely normal; there were no complaints about his teaching," his academic adviser, Lance Cooper, told the Tribune. Cooper said Christensen didn't have any disciplinary complaints, and a spokesman told the Tribune his affiliation with the university ended when he graduated.
After searching Christensen’s electronics, authorities found in his phone’s internet search history visits to a bondage and sadomasochism fetish website, a forum called “Abduction 101,” and forum chats on the “perfect abduction fantasy” as well as “planning a kidnapping.”
After surveilling Christensen, authorities say, they heard him admit to the kidnapping in an audio recording, and that he held Zhang in his apartment against her will, according to the Tribune.