Memorial service held for slain U of I Chinese scholar

SAVOY, Ill. —  A memorial service was help Friday for the University of Illinois PhD student who was murdered two-years ago.

The service for 26-year-old Yingying Zhang took place at First Baptist Church in Savoy, Illinois, which is near Champaign.

It was originally scheduled for last week, but had to be postponed.

The church filled to capacity. Hundreds came to remember Yingying not as a victim, but as a young woman full of life. Her mother's words were read by her father.

"My daughter was such a good and kind person," Ranggao Zhang, father, said. "She was excellent and I never had to worry about her. She is gone now."

The Zhang family came from a rural area of China. Her father said they were well-educated, but not well off.

However, the young woman charted a different course. She wanted to teach at a university after obtaining her PhD and contribute to scientific research. All that was cut short in 2017 when she was kidnapped on the U of I campus and killed by 30-year-old Brendt Christensen.

After the trial, the murderer's lawyer said her body had been put out in the garage and taken to the landfill, likely unrecoverable. Her father said the family still holds hope that her remains will be found.

"Our number one wish now is still to find Yingying and bring her home," Ranggao Zhang said.

Yingying was 26 and engaged to be married. Her fiancée shared his deep loss.

"Yingying will always be the brightest star in my heart whether living beside us on Earth or shining in heaven," Xialin Hou, fiancée, said.

A Chinese choir assembled specifically for Friday's memorial offered solace.

As the service concluded, Yingying's family headed out for a final stop in central Illinois for a private visit to the memorial garden that bares her name.

A fund has been established at the University of Illinois in honor of Yingying.

Christensen avoided the death penalty in Zhang's death after a jury failed to reach a unanimous decision and instead gave him life without the possibility of parole for the abduction, rape and killing of the Chinese scholar.

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