URBANA, Ill. — For greater than 4 months, Ronggao Zhang has walked to his lacking daughter’s condo virtually day-after-day. At first, he stood outdoors, hoping she would present up one afternoon. But even after he was instructed she’d been kidnapped and was presumed useless, he’s continued his routine.
“It brings peace and comfort to my heart,” Zhang defined in Mandarin, by a translator.
His daughter, Yingying Zhang (ying ying zahng), a 26-year-old visiting scholar on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, disappeared June 9 on her technique to signal an condo lease. A former graduate scholar has been charged with kidnapping and killing her. Zhang’s physique has not been discovered.
A number of days in the past, Zhang’s father made a remaining go to to the Orchard Downs flats along with his spouse, 24-year-old son and daughter’s boyfriend as they ready to return to China. They arrived right here after Zhang vanished, hopeful to start with that she’d be discovered alive. After authorities relayed the grim information, they determined to remain till her stays have been discovered so they might take her house for a correct burial, in accordance with Chinese customs.
Now they plan to go away Sunday, reluctantly, with out her. Zhang’s mom is in fragile well being — she broke down in the beginning of a latest court docket listening to — and there’s no method of figuring out when this merciless thriller will likely be solved. Each day they wait, in agony.
“We don’t know where she is, and I don’t know how to spend the rest of my life without my daughter,” mentioned Lifeng Ye, Zhang’s mom, her face tear-stained and voice trembling as she spoke by a translator. “I can’t really sleep well at night. … I often dream of my daughter, and she’s right there with me. I want to ask the mother of the suspect, please talk to her son and ask him what he did to my daughter. Where is she now? I want to know the answer.”
Authorities haven’t mentioned how Zhang died. Brendt Christensen, 28, was charged in July with abduction after which final month accused in a superseding indictment of kidnapping leading to demise “in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner, in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.” That carries the potential of the demise penalty. Christensen’s lawyer declined remark.
Federal prosecutors declare that Zhang, who arrived on campus in April, had missed a bus and nervous she was late to signal an condo lease when Christensen lured her into his automotive. Surveillance video confirmed her entering into the entrance seat of a black Saturn Astra the FBI alleges was cleaned in a technique to conceal proof.
Audio surveillance captured Christensen speaking about how he kidnapped Zhang and introduced her again to his condo, the place she “fought and resisted” whereas he held her towards her will, in line with prosecutors. They contend he additionally talked about who makes an “ideal victim,” however prosecutors wouldn’t establish whom Christensen was talking with or the supply of these conversations.
A federal criticism disclosed that Christensen used his telephone in April to go to a fetish networking website on-line, viewing threads titled “perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.” Christensen, who earlier this yr earned a grasp’s diploma in physics, appeared at a campus vigil for Zhang in June earlier than he was arrested.
Zhang’s disappearance has rippled far past this quiet central Illinois group, producing headlines and dialogue in Chinese newspapers and social media websites in regards to the American justice system, the capabilities of legislation enforcement, and whether or not students who examine within the U.S. are secure.
Some 5,600 Chinese college students attend the college right here — greater than every other faculty within the nation. The Urbana-Champaign space sometimes has no various homicides a yr.
Studying in America was a longtime dream for Zhang and “she loved her stay here,” mentioned her boyfriend, Xiaolin Hou, who was in contact along with her day-after-day through WeChat, a preferred social community in China.
She selected Illinois for its extremely regarded agriculture program. Zhang had been doing analysis on crop photosynthesis. She was to start her doctoral work in September after having earned a graduate diploma in environmental engineering from the distinguished Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School.
“She was very tough, strong, never afraid of hard work,” her mom mentioned, recalling how she was on the high of her class ever since she was slightly lady. Zhang was a relaxing affect, too, when her mother and father expressed concern about her security in America. “She always told me, ‘Mom, don’t worry about me. There are Chinese here, Americans here. But everyone is very nice here.’”
Zhang was a loyal daughter. At the identical time each Saturday, she’d name her mother and father in Nanping, China. As a graduate analysis scholar, she used her meager financial savings to purchase her household a cellphone, an air conditioner and a microwave oven. She deliberate to grow to be a college professor and assist assist her father, a manufacturing unit employee, and mom, a homemaker.
“She never hesitated, even for a moment, when others needed help,” mentioned her boyfriend, who put his doctoral research on maintain to affix Zhang’s household right here. He mentioned her selflessness was what attracted him to Zhang once they met of their first yr in faculty. She additionally knew the way to have enjoyable, enjoying guitar and singing lead in a band referred to as “Cute Horse.”
Hou and relations have met with the FBI, police and prosecutors, however they’re pissed off by the gradual tempo of justice, mentioned Zhidong Wang, a Chicago lawyer who has been serving to them. He mentioned he’s defined that despite the fact that authorities have a suspect, Christensen’s constitutional rights defend him from being pressured to disclose something that will harm his protection.
Christensen’s attorneys lately sought a delay within the trial till subsequent October, saying they wanted to test into a number of purported sightings of Zhang and reviews of suspicious individuals round her condo earlier than she disappeared.
Zhang’s father mentioned the lack of his daughter has warped his sense of time: “Every day is like a year.”
Hou, Zhang’s boyfriend of eight years, has struggled, too. Though they didn’t have marriage plans, he mentioned, “In my heart, she is my wife for all time.”
When authorities supplied scanned pages of Zhang’s diary to the household, Hou mentioned it harm an excessive amount of to learn them totally. She wrote frequently of long-term and short-term targets and meticulously detailed how she organized her day — 20 minutes for breakfast, 20 minutes for jogging.
On June 1, her final entry, Zhang was a bit extra philosophical.
“Life,” she wrote, “is too short to be ordinary.”
Hou mentioned it will likely be arduous to go away and wait from hundreds of miles away to carry Zhang house.
“We don’t know how much longer this journey is going to be,” he mentioned. “We just feel hopeless.”