Family of Chinese scholar missing in Illinois asks Trump for help

Chinese student Yingying Zhang is seen in a still image from security camera video taken outside an MTD Teal line bus in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. June 9, 2017. University of Illinois Police/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Family members of a Chinese scholar presumed kidnapped in Illinois asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to provide additional resources to help find her.

Yingying Zhang, a 26-year-old visiting scholar to the University of Illinois from southeastern 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 abducting Zhang. Christensen, 28, pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping last month and is scheduled to stand trial in September.

Yingying Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang, cited the president’s own role as a father in a letter sent to Trump earlier this month and read by Zhang’s boyfriend, Xiaolin Hou, 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.”

A White House representative could not immediately be reached for comment.

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

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

The case has been watched closely by Chinese media, China government officials and Chinese students in the United States.

Zhang, who had been studying photosynthesis and crop productivity, was last seen when a security camera recorded her getting into a black car that authorities linked to Christensen, according to court documents.

Christensen was placed under surveillance by federal agents who heard him talking about how he kidnapped Zhang, court records said. He could receive a life sentence if convicted.

Christensen’s attorney, Anthony Bruno, said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the defense received more than 1,000 pages of police reports related to the case earlier this month, and expects to gain access to video evidence soon.

Bruno said the defense 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Springfield, Illinois, office referred questions to U.S. Attorney spokeswoman Sharon Paul.

Paul said in a phone interview on Tuesday that prosecutors have no update on Yingying Zhang’s whereabouts and declined to provide details of the FBI’s search efforts.

(Reporting by Julia Jacobs in Chicago; Editing by Patrick Enright and Matthew Lewis)

Case of missing China scholar rattles compatriots at U.S. colleges

Chinese student Yingying Zhang is seen in a still image from security camera video taken outside an MTD Teal line bus in Urbana, Illinois, U.S. June 9, 2017. University of Illinois Police/Handout via REUTERS

By Julia Jacobs

CHICAGO(Reuters) – For many of the 300,000 Chinese students at U.S. colleges and their parents back home, the presumed kidnapping of a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois confirmed their worst fears about coming to America to study.

Xinyi Zhang, a 21-year-old student from China who is studying accounting at the same Illinois school that the missing woman was attending, said the case has stirred deep anxiety for her and her family in China.

She said she had tried to shield her parents from details of the disappearance of Yingying Zhang, 26, who came to Illinois several months ago to study photosynthesis and crop productivity. But the Chinese media had covered the story too closely to keep them in the dark.

“I just don’t want them to be panicked,” said Xinyi Zhang, who is not related to the missing woman. “I am the only child they have, and the risk of losing me is just too huge to handle.”

The business school student, who is home for the summer before returning to Illinois next month for her senior year, said her parents worry about her going back to her off-campus apartment. They have even suggested she apply to graduate school in a different country.

The case came to a head this month when a 28-year-old former Illinois graduate student, Brendt Christensen, was charged with kidnapping Zhang, who went missing on June 9. Authorities believe she is dead, though no body has been found.

Her misfortune has become a near-obsession with many of the 300,000 Chinese international students at U.S. colleges and their parents half a world away, lighting up social media and animating long-distance phone calls.

State-sponsored Chinese news media outlets have framed the case as emblematic of a security problem in the United States. The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper, wrote earlier this month that the kidnapping shows that China is “much safer” than America.

On Weibo, a Chinese blogging site, commenters have repeatedly questioned the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s effectiveness in investigating the case, said Berlin Fang, a Chinese newspaper columnist based in the United States.

Xiaotong Gui, a 20-year-old math student at Pomona College outside Los Angeles, said reading about the case made her feel unsafe on her own campus nearly 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from the Illinois university, which draws thousands of students from China.

On Johns Hopkins University’s Baltimore campus, Luorongxin Yuan, a 20-year-old biology student from outside Nanjing, said the fact that the accused kidnapper was a graduate student has made her mother particularly anxious. “She doesn’t trust anyone here anymore,” Yuan said.

Before Christensen’s arrest, federal agents put him under surveillance and heard him say that he had kidnapped Zhang, court documents show. A search of the suspect’s cellphone revealed that he had visited a website that included threads on “perfect abduction fantasy.”

His attorney has said his client is still presumed innocent. If convicted, Christensen could face up to life in prison.

Shen Qiwen, a spokesman for the Chinese consulate in Chicago, said Chinese officials hoped the FBI would step up efforts to find the missing scholar. The FBI is involved in the case because kidnapping is a federal crime. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Illinois business student Xinyi Zhang said many Chinese students are hoping for a miracle.

“That could be me,” she said. “For some reason I’m still holding my hope, though, that there’s a tiny, tiny chance that she’s alive right now.”

(Reporting by Julia Jacobs; editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)

FBI Joins Search For Missing Virginia Student

The FBI confirmed they are joining the search for a missing University of Virginia student.

Hannah Elizabeth Graham disappeared after leaving an off-campus apartment complex in Charlottesville before midnight on Sunday.  Friends and family say there has been no trace of the 18-year-old Graham since that night.

Authorities have told Fox News the search is officially a “search and rescue” effort.

“Last night we expanded our search about 25 to 30 blocks Right now we are focusing on another five to six block area which is outside of the zone we looked at last night,” Capt. Guy Williams, of the Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office, told

Police are asking anyone with information about the missing girl to call.  She is described as 5 feet, 11 inches tall.  She was last seen wearing a silvery crop top and black stretch pants.

Missing Airliner May Have Been Miles Off Course

Malaysian military says that a Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared on Saturday night could have been miles off course over the Strait of Malacca rather than over the open ocean.

The military also says that it appears the two men who boarded the flight using stolen passports were not terrorists but men fleeing Iran to ask for asylum in Europe.  Officials would not say if terrorism was still a focus of the investigation.

The last day has proven to cause more questions than answers as searchers discovered the oil slicks found in the ocean were not connected to the flight.  They also discovered that some of the debris that was thought to be parts of the aircraft is nothing more than flotsam that had gathered together.

The U.S. Navy has sent ships and at least three search and rescue helicopters into the area to try and find debris or survivors.

The airline has reportedly offered $3,000 to the family members of everyone on the flight while saying they were not going to stop rescue efforts.

Missing Doctor Confounds Investigators

Investigators in Michigan are marveling over the disappearance of Teleka Patrick.

The 30-year-old doctor had been in residency in Kalamazoo, Michigan when she failed to show up for work on December 6th.  She has not been seen since.

Patrick’s car was found 100 miles south of Kalamazoo in a ditch next to Interstate 94.  The car was abandoned but not crashed and search dogs show Patrick’s scent disappearing 30 feet from where the car was found.

Now, police have found a series of videos Patrick made for an unknown person that they believe could be connected to the disappearance.  They have also been given a security video from a hotel in Kalamazoo that showed Patrick talking to the desk clerks the night of her disappearance.

Patrick’s family says they did not know of her being involved with anyone.  The series of videos discovered on Patrick’s computer and storage shows her talking to an unknown person, showing a dinner set for two stating ‘this is where you would sit if you were here’ and also discussing ways they can be together.

Police say they have no evidence of foul play and no conclusive evidence regarding Patrick’s movements after she left the hotel and boarded the hotel’s courtesy van.  However, they warn this situation could be a warning regarding giving out personal information on the internet and communicating with people you don’t know in person.  It’s possible that Patrick was abducted by someone not who they claimed to be in their communications with her.