Memorial service held for murdered U of I scholar Yingying Zhang

SAVOY, Ill. (WLS) -- The long road to healing began in Champaign Urbana as a memorial was held for murdered Chinese scholar Yingying Zhang.

Loved ones gathered Friday to say their final goodbyes to Zhang. Her parents and fiance shared stories of a young woman from a humble background determined to go forth in the world and make it better.

Her legacy is perhaps a plea to bring people together-- no matter how different they are.

The 26-year-old scholar in math was murdered two years ago, her body never found. Her killer, Brendt Christensen, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

On Friday, Zhang's family sang, wept, and expressed gratitude for the girl they said was a light of the world.

"When she was in graduate school she volunteered to be a school teacher in rural areas of China - places with tough living conditions - she wanted to help those in poverty and in desperate need of help. This had always been her dream," said Runggao Zhang, her father.

As a memorial grows on the U of I campus, those she touched used this day to say goodbye. Her father quoted her mother.

"Every Mothers Day and in June I think of her I miss her so much in pain and agony," he said.

Zhang's fiance also spoke.

"Our relationship was characterized by inspiring one another through mutual encouragement, acts of service and continuous support - over the last two years it was Yingying who brought me here to America to experience hard life lessons and mature and grow through this ordeal," Xiaolin Hou said.

Dozens of U of I community members attended, most strangers to Yingying. But they felt compelled to be there.

"Seeing Yingying and her family and in the photos that really reminded me of my own family back in China so I feel the pain the sorrow," said Yu Hung, grad student.

"There are scars that will remain for a long long time - time is the only thing that will enable healing to come," said Pastor Chuck Moore, First Baptist Church of Champaign Savoy.

"We need to think about life - what is the purpose of life - what is internal, what is valuable for our living, our life - we need to think about," said Thomas Lee.

Zhang's father had a request for the community.

"We hope that everyone can take care of international students, we hope that students stay safe so that their parents won't be worried, everyone please reach out and help these international students and don't let such a tragic event happen again," he said.

The family left for a private ceremony at the garden in Urbana. They placed several personal items inside a wooden box that was created by local Amish artisans. They plan to bury the box.

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