Missing student's family in plea to Trump

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The family of a Chinese student presumed kidnapped in Illinois have asked US President Donald Trump to provide additional resources to help find her.
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The family of a Chinese student presumed kidnapped in Illinois have asked US President Donald Trump to provide additional resources to help find her.

Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old visiting scholar at the University of Illinois from southeast China, disappeared on June 9. Police believe Zhang is dead, although no body has been found.

Brendt Christensen, a former master’s student at the university, has been charged with her abduction. Christensen, 28, pleaded not guilty to kidnapping last month and is due to stand trial in September.

Zhang Yingying’s father, Zhang Ronggao, cited the US president’s own role as a father in a letter he sent to Trump earlier this month. It was read out by Zhang’s boyfriend Hou Xiaolin at a news conference on Tuesday.

“As a loving father to your own children, you can understand what we are going through,” the letter said. “We fervently request that you direct all available federal law enforcement and investigatory resources be used to find our daughter as soon as possible.”

Hou also told reporters at the news conference in Champaign, Illinois, that he and the family would not be returning to China until Zhang is found.

An online fundraising platform has collected more than US$137,000 to support the family’s stay in the United States.

Hou expressed his frustration at the pace of the search. With the missing woman’s parents standing nearby during the news conference, Hou said her family and friends “feel helpless” because they don’t know when their ordeal will end.

“Yingying is a kind, optimistic, diligent and brave girl,” Hou said. “She would not give up on anything or anybody as long as there was a glimmer of hope. So we will never give up on her, either.”

Hou said investigators shared “good news” about the evidence they’ve collected, but no details and no breakthrough yet on where Zhang might be.

Hou said Zhang’s father walks to his daughter’s old apartment and stays there for hours.

“I never asked him why. But I think this is the only way he has now to cure his wound,” Hou said.

Zhang disappeared just weeks after arriving at the Urbana-Champaign campus in central Illinois where she was doing research in agricultural sciences. She was expected to begin work on her doctorate in the fall.

Christensen is accused of kidnapping Zhang in Urbana, 225 kilometers southwest of Chicago. 

Investigators said Zhang was abducted after she left campus to sign an apartment lease. They believe Christensen lured her into his car.

Christensen, who earned a master’s degree in physics from the university this year, was placed under surveillance by federal agents who heard him talking about how he had kidnapped Zhang, court records said. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

Christensen’s attorney Anthony Bruno told reporters the defense had received more than 1,000 pages of police reports related to the case and expected to gain access to video evidence soon.

Bruno said he plans to request a delay to the start of the trial to get additional time to review the “enormous” amount of evidence received from the government.

A spokesman for the FBI’s Springfield, Illinois, office referred questions to US Attorney spokeswoman Sharon Paul.

Paul said prosecutors had no update on Zhang Yingying’s whereabouts and declined to provide details of search efforts.


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