By Chris Kenning
CHICAGO (Reuters) – An Illinois man charged with abducting a missing Chinese scholar will remain in jail under a judge’s order as the FBI investigates her disappearance, a court official said on Wednesday.
Judge Eric Long of the U.S. District Court in Urbana, Illinois, denied bail to Brendt Christensen, 28, who was arrested last week in Champaign, Illinois, on charges of kidnapping in the disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, on June 9, according to the court clerk’s office.
Christensen’s attorney, Evan Bruno, could not be reached Wednesday but said earlier that his client was presumed innocent of the charges. He has not yet been indicted. A preliminary hearing is set for July 14.
No body has been found but authorities believe Zhang is dead, although they have not disclosed why.
Zhang was recorded by surveillance video on June 9 waiting for a bus and then getting in a black car when a motorist pulled up to the bus stop. Police connected the car to Christensen and he first told investigators he did not recall his whereabouts on that day. Later he said he picked up an Asian female and then dropped her off a few blocks later.
Federal agents then put Christensen under surveillance and heard him “explaining” that he kidnapped Zhang, although they did not disclose to whom he was speaking, according to court documents. A search of the suspect’s cell phone also found he had visited a website that included threads on “perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping,” according to a criminal complaint.
Zhang, a scholar in photosynthesis and crop productivity, came to the University of Illinois several months ago.
The case shook the Chinese community at the university, which draws thousands of students from China. Zhang’s father and other family members travelled from China to join in the search. Her case has garnered news coverage in China.
People holding signs of support for Zhang have gathered at the courthouse for Christensen’s appearances.
Christensen graduated from the university in May with a master’s degree in physics. Court documents show he is married.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning)