URBANA, Ill. — Brendt Christensen, 28, suspected of kidnapping student Yingying Zhang, shuffled into court Monday morning in a Macon County jumpsuit. He didn’t speak much and looked tired.
Christensen’s court appearance coincided with photos circulating online showing him participating in a walk to support Yingying Zhang’s family during the search for their daughter. A CNN reporter captured a photo of Christensen standing in the back of the rally outside the Krannert performing arts center at U of I on Thursday, the day before the FBI arrested him.
Undercover police say they followed Christensen for almost two weeks before he was arrested. He allegedly admitted to the kidnapping on an audio recording.
Zhang, a visiting scholar doing research at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, disappeared June 9.
The 26-year-old was running late while headed to an apartment complex to sign a lease. Police believe Christensen was driving the black Saturn Astra seen circling the intersection where Zhang had gotten off the bus.
Surveillance video shows Zhang speaking with the driver for a few minutes, then getting into the car.
The FBI say based on evidence they’ve obtained, they believe Zhang is dead.
A federal complaint states Christensen’s phone reveals visits to a sexual fetish website and views of threads titled “Planning a Kidnapping” and “Perfect Abduction Fantasy.”
Police think Christensen may have held Zhang at this Champaign apartment.
Investigators who interviewed Christensen before his arrest say he kept changing his story. They say in the last interview, he told them he offered a female Asian a ride and that when he took a wrong turn, she panicked and got out of the car.
In court Monday, nearly 100 Chinese students and family members gathered to show their support.
Zhang’s family was visibly shaken after Monday’s court appearance. They say Zhang had only been in the United States for two weeks before she went missing.
Christensen is being held at the Macon County jail by the U.S. Marshalls.
On Wednesday, a judge will decide whether he should be released on bond.