Bensenville, IL (WHDH) — The man accused of kidnapping a University of Illinois grad student last month, was spotted at the vigil for Yingying Zhang one day before his arrest.
A photo taken by a CNN correspondent, shows Brendt Christensen casually leaning against a railing at the demonstration held on campus last Thursday.
Christensen is barely visible behind hundreds of students, members of the community and even the missing student’s family, but university police confirmed it is him.
Authorities say Christensen had been under surveillance for almost two weeks before he was caught on an audio recording explaining how he kidnapped Zhang.
“Those that knew him are quite surprised,” said Lance Cooper, the Director of Graduate Studies, Dept. of Physics. “There was no hint of something like this.”
26-year-old Zhang had only been in the U.S. for two months when she went missing on June 9th.
She was last seen getting into Christensen’s car on campus. He told investigators he picked her up because she appeared distressed and that he dropped her off a few blocks away.
According to the criminal complaint against Christensen, Zhang is still missing and is presumed dead.
The 28-year-old had his first court appearance on Monday where he did not enter a plea.
“He’s been charged with kidnapping,” said Sharon Paul of the Public Information Office for the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois, “and if convicted, the penalty is up to life in prison.”
An attorney for Christensen asked the public to keep an open mind.
Investigators say they think Zhang may have hopped into the car with the suspect because she was running late for an appointment.
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