The grieving father of Yingying Zhang, the Chinese scholar murdered near the University of Illinois, says he realizes he may never recover his daughter’s body for burial.
“There is nothing we want more than to find our daughter and bring her home,” Ronggao Zhang said through an interpreter in Urbana, Illinois, Wednesday. “We understand that may be impossible.”
Zhang’s killer, Brendt Christensen, is serving life in prison with no chance of parole.
After months of the Zhang family begging him to reveal where her body is, Christensen told his lawyers what he did with her remains after he raped, stabbed, beat and dismembered her.
Christensen claims he put Zhang’s clothes, cellphone, books and body parts in three bags and then threw them into garbage dumpsters around Champaign, Illinois, where the university is located.
Authorities say the contents of the dumpsters were emptied into garbage trucks, crushed and buried in a private landfill, where they are thought to be under 9 meters of trash.
Zhang family attorneys said it would be complicated and nearly impossible to search the landfill. They also say if anything is left of Zhang, the remains would be very small and have likely decomposed.
The lawyers said it is also impossible to know if Christensen is telling the truth.
Ronggao Zhang said the family has decided to follow Chinese tradition and create a gravesite for his daughter even without her body.
He called Christensen a “heartless and evil person” and said he hopes his daughter’s killer “suffers the rest of his life as he made Yingying suffer in the final moments of her life.”
Zhang was from a working-class Chinese family. She was studying at the University of Illinois in Champaign, hoping to become an agriculture professor.
During his trial, prosecutors said Christensen was out to kill someone and drove the streets near the campus looking for a victim.
Zhang was running late for an appointment to sign a lease on an apartment when Christensen, posing as an officer, lured her into his car. He drove her to his apartment where he killed her.
Christensen’s former girlfriend wore a concealed recorder and taped him giving details on the murder, turning over the tape to police. Investigators also say they found blood in Christensen’s apartment that matched Zhang’s DNA.
Christensen’s lawyers never denied he killed her. But they spoke of his mental health issues, saying he suffered from depression and felt himself losing control of his life. They say Christensen had been a straight-A student at the university who was failing all his classes in the months before the murder.