Chinese student Zhang Yao, who was killed when she was hit by a train as she chased her muggers in Rome. Photo: Facebook

Death of student Zhang Yao, hit by train as she chased muggers in Rome, infuriates family and Chinese community

Sad and angry, the Chinese community in Rome on Sunday paid tribute to a student fatally hit by a train while pursuing muggers who had stolen her purse with her just-issued residency permit.

An aspiring fashion designer, 20-year-old Zhang Yao arrived in the Italian capital from China in March to attend Rome’s Academy of the Fine Arts.

Watch: Memorial after death of Chinese student Zhang Yao

On December 5, Zhang had just left the police complex in the largely industrial Tor Sapienza neighbourhood on Rome’s outskirts which issues and renews residency permits to foreigners when three young men snatched her bag. Friends said she called them with her cellphone to report what had happened and plead for help while apparently trying to regain her documents.

Media broadcast footage from an industrial company’s surveillance camera that showed Zhang, looking dazed near tracks at the local train station. First one train whizzes by and then another one struck her as she spoke on the phone. Her bloodied body was found on December 9 in a ditch, where it apparently landed after being struck by the train. The train crew apparently was unaware the woman was struck.

Chinese community mourners lay flowers and candles to remember 20-year-old Zhang Yao in the Tor Sapienza area of Rome on Sunday. Photo: ANSA via AP

Police are looking for a trio of young men or boys shown on the surveillance cameras, Italian media said.

Identified as Zhang Gowen, the victim’s father was quoted by Corriere della Sera newspaper as saying that after his daughter disappeared following the handbag theft, “I thought they kidnapped her. I thought that they would have asked me for a ransom.”
Italian police inspect train tracks near where the body of Zhang Yao was found on Friday. Photo: EPA

He added: “Never would I have imagined going to the morgue to meet her.”

About 200 mourners commemorated the student as they laid white roses and daisies outside the train station.

Police allowed Zhang’s father to lay flowers on the tracks where his daughter was hit.

The father wiped away tears as he called out: “Tell me how she died.” An uncle dropped to the ground and cried out for justice.

At the ceremony, some Chinese female students voiced fears about going around Rome alone.

Foreigners have been easy prey for criminals. In July, a 19-year-old American, who arrived earlier in the day from the United States to study in Rome, was found dead in the Tiber River after he chased along the river banks a thief who stole his wallet.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Chinese student’s death sparks anger