University of Illinois kidnapping suspect allegedly attended victim's vigil, DOJ says

The man accused of kidnapping a visiting Chinese scholar at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign allegedly attended a vigil for his suspected victim, according to the Department of Justice.

Brendt Christensen, 28, of Champaign, Illinois, was arrested on June 30 and charged with the kidnapping of 26-year-old Yingying Zhang on June 9, the FBI said. Zhang has not been found and the FBI said it believes the 26-year-old is dead.

The Department of Justice said in a statement today, “According to statements made by the government during today’s hearing, the government alleges that Christensen attended and walked in a vigil for the victim on June 29; has made statements about the characteristics of the ideal victim; that the victim fought and resisted; and, that he made a threat to another person to whom he made incriminating statements.”

Christensen appeared in court in grey-and-black-striped prison garb and said nothing during the appearance, merely nodding his head as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Central District of Illinois Eric Wong read instructions. In court, U.S. Attorney Bryan Freres listed reasons why Christensen should not be released on bail.

Prosecutors also alleged that Christensen threatened the safety of a witness involved in the case. Wong ordered that Christensen be detained until his trial.

While Christensen hasn’t entered a plea, his defense attorney, Evan Bruno, said earlier this week that his client maintains his innocence.

Bruno argued today that Christensen is being held at a jail an hour away from Champaign, which doesn’t provide proper space to go over evidence with his client.

Zhang’s family was in attendance for the hearing. No relatives of the Christensen family were in court.

The criminal complaint against Christensen, which outlines his alleged crime, does not identify Zhang by name. However, the FBI did name her in its press release.

According to the complaint, around 1:39 p.m. on June 9, Zhang, who had arrived at the University of Illinois in April or May of this year, texted the manager of an apartment complex where she intended to sign a lease to say she was running late. She told the apartment manager that she planned to arrive around 2:10 p.m., according to the complaint.

Surveillance video showed Zhang boarding a university bus around 1:35 p.m. and getting off about 1:52 p.m. Four minutes later, she tried to flag down another bus, but the bus did not stop, the complaint said, so Zhang walked to another bus stop.

At 2 p.m., a car passed Zhang at the bus stop and circled the block, coming back to her, the complaint said. Authorities allege that Christensen was the driver.

Three minutes later, the car slowed and pulled over to her, and Zhang was seen speaking with the driver through the passenger window for about a minute, the complaint said. At 2:04 p.m., Zhang got into the passenger seat and the car drove away, according to the complaint.

When the apartment manager texted Zhang around 2:38 p.m., she didn’t respond, the complaint said. That night, an associate professor reported Zhang missing and authorities launched a search for her.

Christensen, who authorities allege was behind the wheel of the car that picked up Zhang, initially said he could not remember his whereabouts on June 9, the complaint said. Christensen later said he must have been sleeping or playing video games at home all day, according to the complaint.

Later, during an interview at the FBI’s Champaign office, Christensen “admitted to driving around the UI campus when he observed an Asian female with a backpack standing at a corner appearing distressed,” the complaint said. Christensen then claimed that he drove up to her and she said she was late to an appointment and that he offered her a ride. He said she got into his car and tried to show him where she needed to go, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, “Christensen claimed that he believed he made a wrong turn, because the female became panicked, at which point Christensen claimed that he let her out of the vehicle in a residential area a few blocks away from where he picked her up.”

But on June 29, Christensen allegedly was “captured on audio recording while under law enforcement surveillance explaining how he kidnapped” Zhang. The complaint said Christensen admitted to bringing her back to his apartment and holding her there against her will.

According to the complaint, Christensen’s phone was used in April to visit a sexual fetish networking website called FetLife.com. The complaint said Christensen’s phone accessed a forum on the site called “’Abduction 101,’ to include sub-threads ‘Perfect abduction fantasy’ and ‘planning a kidnapping.'”

Christensen, who had received a master’s degree in physics from the University of Illinois earlier this year, according to the AP, made an initial appearance in federal court Monday and was ordered held without bond.

Bruno, his defense attorney, said that people should avoid jumping to conclusions until they have all of the facts.

“My client is presumed innocent and he’s maintained his innocence,” Bruno told ABC News. “There is a reason why we have a criminal justice system and it’s to make sure that people have a fair process.”

“A lot of the information that has been available to the media has been information that was provided in an FBI affidavit to try to establish probable cause that a crime was committed,” Bruno added. “There’s a lot more information out there that the public has yet to become aware of, and until the process has played out, I would caution anyone to [avoid jumping] to conclusions about what did or didn’t happen.”

Christensen’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 14.

ABC News’ Tim Sotter contributed to this report.

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