Family of Chinese U of I scholar pleads for help finding her body

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WLS) -- The parents of a Chinese woman who was abducted while studying at the University of Illinois spoke Tuesday for the first time since an arrest was made, asking the White House for help finding her.

Investigators have said they believe 26-year-old Yingying Zhang is dead, although her body hasn't been found. Zhang's mother and younger brother flew to Illinois on Saturday. Her father and boyfriend have been in the U.S. since June 17.

Zhang graduated from Beijing's prestigious Peking University before arriving at U of I in the spring of 2017. Her case sent shockwaves across China. Her family spoke to the press for the first time Tuesday, making an emotional plea.

Her mother's grief, in the wake of her daughter's disappearance, is still unbearable.

"For a long time after that she could not eat or sleep, and was extremely weak," said Xiaolin Hou, Zhang's boyfriend, who served as the family's spokesperson.

Zhang's mother was too emotional to speak as the family urged President Trump to get involved as they still know so little about what happened.

"With each day passing, the chance of finding Ying Ying Zhang decrease. We ask that you use all federal resources possible to help find our daughter," Hou read from a letter written by Zhang's family..

Zhang was last seen on June 9 in Urbana, 140 miles southwest of Chicago, getting into a car on the university's campus. Brendt Allen Christensen has been charged with her kidnapping. But little else is known; her body has never been found. The family, while thanking supporters, shared a Chinese saying that translates to "falling leaves will return to its roots." That is what sustains them until they can bring Zhang home.

"Ying Ying is a kind, brave person. She would never give up, so we will never give up on her either," Hou said said.

Christensen is accused of kidnapping Zhang. Investigators say Zhang was abducted after she left campus to sign an apartment lease. They believe Christensen lured her into his car.

He has pleaded not guilty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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