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Family realizes task to find scholar's body daunting

By KONG WENZHENG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-08-08 22:46

Zhang Yingying, a 26-year-old visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois who went missing on June 9, 2017, is pictured in an undated photo provided by the University of Illinois Police Department. [Photo/Agencies]

Zhang Yingying's father calls killer 'evil' as search of landfill for remains is considered

The family of slain Chinese scholar Zhang Yingying acknowledged Wednesday that there is a low possibility her remains will be recovered.

They spoke at a news conference in Urbana, Illinois, two weeks after learning what the man convicted in the murder of the visiting postgraduate student at the University of Illinois did with her remains two years ago.

Brendt Christensen, a former University of Illinois (UI) graduate student who was convicted for kidnapping and killing Zhang in a recently concluded trial, told his attorneys that after killing Zhang on June 9, 2017, he placed her bodily remains in three garbage bags, threw them into a garbage bin outside his Champaign apartment the second day, and later disposed of her other personal items in various trash receptacles around the area.

"If what that man said is true, it further confirms that he is a heartless and evil person," said Zhang Ronggao, Zhang's father, in a translated statement.

"We condemn his brutal and malicious actions, and we hope that he suffers the rest of his life, as he made Yingying suffer in the final moments of her life," he added.

Overwhelmed by grief, Zhang's mother had to leave the news conference in tears halfway through, according to local website The News-Gazette.

The family, who flew from China months ago for the federal murder trial at which Christensen, 30, was sentenced to life in prison without parole, was told about Zhang's possible whereabouts during a meeting with prosecutors on July 25.

Prosecutors and other investigators got the information from the defense team under immunity half a year ago, but were prevented by the immunity agreement to use the information in Christensen's trial and sentencing proceedings or disclose it to anyone, including the Zhang family, who had repeatedly expressed their desire to find Zhang and take her home.

Zhang Ronggao asked Christensen to "unconditionally tell us what he knows about Yingying's location" after the trial concluded on July 18.

While still considering finding his daughter a "primary goal", Zhang admitted Wednesday that it might be impossible.

"Based on what we have been told by the authorities, we think the best thing to do now is to let them look into the feasibility of recovering Yingying's remains," he said in a translated statement.

The contents of the garbage bin, where Christensen said he dumped Zhang's remains, were taken to a private landfill in the vicinity of Danville, Illinois, and were compacted twice, possibly leaving Zhang's remains "smaller than a cell phone", Beckett said.

Active usage of the landfill, which is half a football field in width, may had accumulated at least 30 feet more of fill by the time Christensen's attorney told federal authority about the information, making attempts to recover Zhang's remains "complicated and expensive" with no certainty of success, according to Beckett.

No search has been undertaken to date, but the authorities are still considering an attempt to locate and recover Zhang's remains, according to the family, who said they would allow the authorities to handle the situation and recover Zhang's remains if feasible.

"The prosecutors indicated the strong desire of the agencies involved to go forward with the search — the family welcomes that," Beckett said.

"If Yingying's remains are ever found, we will return to take her home to China where she belongs," said Zhang, who added that the family has not yet decided if they will stay in the States and wait for the result of the search.

The family said they are working with the UI officials to follow Chinese customs and create a gravesite for Zhang in commemoration.

A memorial church service for Zhang, who was 26, is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

The university also has established a fund named after Zhang to support international students. The fund had raised more than $30,000, with Zhang's family providing the lead gift for the endowment.

"I am truly inspired by the Zhang family's desire to create Yingying's Fund. … Their gift will make an enormous impact when these students and their families need it most," UI Chancellor Robert Jones said in a statement.

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