It is a harsh truth but abductions in a school setting are one of the most tangible dangers facing students, all the way up to university levels. Not long ago there was the incident of a Tennessee high school teacher who made off with one of his teenage female students for five whole weeks before they were found in a commune close to Oregon. And then last month Yingying Zhang, 26, a Chinese visiting scholar at the University Of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Campus, disappeared after hitching a ride back to her apartment. On June 30 police arrested suspect Brendt Chirstensen, a Champaign local, in connection with her disappearance.

His apprehending came about due to “returning to the scene of the crime” in a sense.

Return to the scene

On Thursday, June 29, Yingying Zhang’s father and aunt from China led a rally of students and other sympathizers through the University of Illinois campus in a show of solidarity to ascertain her whereabouts since her vanishing on June 9. Under the hashtag of “FindYingying” the assembly offered up to $40,000 in reward money to anyone who might be able to provide information on what happened to Zhang. The event was covered by CNN reporter Kaylee Hartung, who even snapped pictures of the event.

But as the photos were uploaded on Twitter, social media quickly focused on a small figure towards the back of the crowd in one shot.

A man with short hair and beard, a black shirt, pants, and a backpack was leaning against a rail watching the proceedings. According to the University of Illinois public affairs chancellor Robin Kaler, he was identified as Brendt Christensen, a resident of the Champaign area. Based on these photos, police went on to arrest Christensen the following day, the culmination of a weeks-long surveillance operation to pin him as the suspect for abducting Yingying Zhang.

Likely suspect

The detective work that eventually zeroed in on Brendt Christensen as being responsible for kidnapping Zhang was drawn from several clues. Security camera footage of the University of Illinois from June 9 saw the young Chinese scholar hitching a ride from a black car with a sunroof and a crack front hubcap.

Christensen owns a black Saturn Astra with the same characteristics. When questioned by investigators shortly after the disappearance Christensen appears to have changed his story as to his activities during that time. Furthermore, a check of his smartphone history turned up that he visited a web forum that catered to strange fetishes – FetLife – and had followed forum threads regarding how to plan a “perfect abduction.”

One last damning piece of evidence was audio captures of Christensen talking to a confidant about his kidnapping of a “Y.Z.”, believed to mean Yingying Zhang. Said audio files also strengthen the sad probability that the kidnap victim is already dead, which is also the official police presumption.