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Family of missing UI scholar share message before heading home

Yingying Zhang disappeared June 9th; her family will fly back home to China without her next week. (WICS)

Thursday marked five months since University of Illinois scholar, Yingying Zhang was last seen. Zhang's family first arrived in the United States just days after the 26-year-old was reported missing. Since day one, her family planned to never leave the U.S. without bringing Zhang back home, but now as they are preparing to return to China the only thing they are taking back with them is hope.

Zhang was at the corner of Clark and Goodwin, where authorities said she was kidnapped by Brendt Christensen.

“She always told me, ‘mom don't worry about me,’” Zhang’s mother Lifeng Ye said. “She said ‘there are Chinese here, Americans here, but everyone was very nice here, very friendly environment.’"

Zhang’s mother recalled some of the last conversations with her daughter while she was studying at the University of Illinois campus.

"Very, very painful, I’m heartbroken,” Ye said. “I didn't find my daughter. I didn't find her here, and I can't take her home. I don't know how I can live when I go back home without my daughter.”

Zhang disappeared June 9 as she was on her way to sign an apartment lease. Former U of I graduate student Brendt Christensen is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, but Zhang’s body has not been found.

"As parents who love our daughter, we feel like we are so innocent,” Zhang’s father, Ronggao Zhang said. “We want the parents of the suspect or the wife of the suspect to talk with him, negotiate with him and ask the whereabouts of my daughter.”

Zhang’s family will fly back to China without her next Monday.

"About two weeks ago, it had always been our hope that we would stay here until we find her,” Zhang’s boyfriend, Xiaolin Hou said. “Right now it becomes very hopeless. We decided to leave the United States mainly because [Yingying's] mom's health was a huge concern. She had heart problems here.”

As the family prepares to travel thousands of miles away, they still hold on to the last string of hope.

"For me, my heart will always believe she's with me, she's alive. She's such a kind, very good natured girl,” Zhang’s father said.

Zhang’s father said he has walked to her apartment every day for the past months, hoping she would show up one day. Before leaving for China on Monday, he said he will make a final visit to her apartment with the rest of the family.

"I can't really sleep well at night, and I often dream of my daughter and she's right there with me,” Ye said. “I want to ask the mother of the suspect, please talk to her son and ask him what he did to my daughter and where she is now. I want to know the answer.”

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