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‘Never give up, we’ll find you’: boyfriend’s message to Chinese student missing in US

Zhang Yingying’s family laments slow progress of investigation as Illinois’ Chinese community unite, raising almost US$90,000 in efforts to find woman believed kidnapped two weeks ago

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 2:57pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 9:21pm

The abduction of a Chinese scholar in the United States has sparked safety concerns among her fellow students as the FBI continues its massive search for the 26-year-old who disappeared a fortnight ago.

Zhang Yingying, who was born in southeastern China’s Fujian province, was last seen on the afternoon of June 9 getting into a black Saturn Astra near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, where she is a visiting scholar.

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“Many people – students and residents – are praying for [Zhang]. As far as I know, people are worried because we all want her to return safely,” Silvia Song Xiangyu, a Chinese graduate student at the university, told the South China Morning Post.

“I’d say everyone in our community is becoming more concerned with their personal safety, not just Chinese students. People are taking extra precautions: not walking alone, informing others of their schedule and avoiding going home too late,” she said.

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The FBI said earlier that Zhang was likely kidnapped by a white man who had been spotted circling the area in a car prior to her disappearance. In video footage released by the police, she is seen talking to the driver of a black Saturn Astra before getting into the passenger seat of the vehicle, which then pulls away.

Since Zhang’s disappearance, two rewards totalling US$50,000 have been offered for information on her whereabouts. Separately, as of Friday afternoon, almost US$90,000 had been pledged through a GoFundMe site to support her family during the search – well over its initial US$30,000 target.

On Thursday night, local time, Ping Yifan, president of the university’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association, spoke about Zhang.

“[Zhang] came from a small city in southern China, and she worked her way into one of the best universities in China,” Ping said, speaking on behalf of the Chinese community at a meeting organised to provide students with support and information about the case. Zhang is a Peking University graduate.

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“She’s talented and diligent in her work, and she’s kind to people around her. We’re so proud that Yingying is one of us.”

Describing how the Chinese community in Illinois had come together to spread the word and work with the local authorities and family, Ping added: “We will be keeping her in our hearts and waiting for her to come back. We have been doing everything we can to help out with the situation.”

A group of university students has created a Find Yingying group on Facebook, where volunteers – including Song, who is also a Peking University graduate – have been regularly posting updates on the case and sending out calls for information on the student’s whereabouts.

Supporters on the Facebook page criticised the FBI investigation for moving too slowly.

Zhang’s family members, who travelled to the US to help with the search, said they felt the authorities had not been sufficiently forthcoming with information.

“We’re obviously very, very anxious the longer it goes. We’re very concerned about the slow progress of the investigation,” Zhang’s boyfriend Hou Xiaolin told local newspaper News Gazette through a translator.

“I want her to keep on, never give up. If she can hear my voice, I would tell her never, ever give up – we will find her,” he added in English.

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The authorities said they were making progress although they could share only small amounts of information to protect the integrity of the investigation.

“I appreciate the family’s position, I would like to be able to give them more information, but anything, even in the private conferences we have, I can only give them a bit of information,” FBI assistant special agent in charge Jon Holloway said on Thursday.

“We have made significant investigative progress.”

Zhang arrived in the US about a month ago and planned to stay for a year researching photosynthesis and crop productivity at the university’s department of natural resources and environmental sciences.

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She was last heard from at 1.30pm on June 9, when she sent a text to a property firm telling them she would be late for a meeting to sign a lease for a flat, police said. She did not show up for the meeting and subsequent attempts to contact her have been unsuccessful.

Urbana is a city in Champaign county, Illinois, with a population of just over 41,000.