Man charged in kidnapping of University of Illinois scholar graduated from UW-Madison

The man prosecutors say kidnapped a visiting scholar at the University of Illinois last month graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013.

Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign, Ill., made his first court appearance Monday, where a judge ordered that he be held without bail until his next hearing on Wednesday.

Federal authorities say Christensen is responsible for the abduction of Yingying Zhang, 26, a Chinese visiting scholar at the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus who was researching photosynthesis and crop productivity. Zhang has been missing for over three weeks.

Authorities do not believe Zhang is still alive.

Christensen, a former University of Illinois graduate student, had earned a bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison four years ago, double majoring in physics and math, a spokeswoman for UW-Madison confirmed. She added that the university is aware of the situation.

Zhang was last seen getting into a black Saturn Astra on June 9. According to the criminal complaint, the FBI matched video footage of the vehicle to Christensen’s, later issuing a search warrant for the car. During an interview with FBI officials, Christensen admitted to having given an Asian woman a ride before letting her out in a residential area.

Authorities searched Christensen’s phone and found a visit to a forum called “Abduction 101” on the website Fetlife, as well as visits to the subthreads “Perfect abduction fantasy” and “planning a kidnapping.”

After searching Christensen’s phone and car, authorities conducted surveillance on Christensen for about two weeks. On Thursday, authorities said, Christensen was caught on an audio recording explaining how he had kidnapped Zhang, brought her back to his apartment and held her against her will.

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