Investigators identify car Yingying Zhang got into the day she vanished: Part 4

Police determined a defect on a hubcap of Brendt Christensen’s car matched that of the vehicle Zhang entered the day she vanished. Christensen agreed to be interviewed by the FBI and campus police.
6:09 | 11/16/19

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Transcript for Investigators identify car Yingying Zhang got into the day she vanished: Part 4
and sign up for copay savings at 26-year-old yingying Zhang disappeared June 9th. Campus police say surveillance video shows her entering a black Saturn astra vehicle in urbana that afternoon. Yingying has been missing for days. The police and FBI agents are working 20-hour days because they know that they're up against the clock. They know that with each passing hour, with each passing day, the chances of finding yingying diminish. We were working 24/7. We weren't seeing our families, we were in some ways sleeping just a couple hours, just enough to get back up and go again. All attention came onto that black Saturn astra. What's the license plate? Who's driving the vehicle? The video was very grainy. It got too pixelated as you came in close. You could not get a view of the driver. Could not get a view of the license plate. I wanted this young lady to be found. There were some detectives looking at video footage. So I went in and asked, "Is there anything I can do to help? What are you guys looking for?" He said, "We're trying to figure out if we can, you know, enhance this and see the license plate." On June 14th, I reviewed the video. It was from this camera angle. It's on the electrical and computer engineering building. And the black vehicle is actually traveling northbound. I started watching the wheels. I noticed that there was something missing here -- a defect. There was a dark spot that was missing from the right passenger front hubcap. And then going through doing my checks, going forward, going backward. Spending a lot more time, frame by frame, taking a look at it, I was able to determine that, yes, this is something different about this car. So, no one else had seen that before you did. Yeah. And then I kind of got a little excited, 'cause I'm, like, hey, well, there's something there. Sergeant Carter, everybody knows that he's a car guy and he has a real close attention to detail on everything. And I didn't see it, but he did. It was a huge moment. That information comes back to the FBI that there's a piece missing from that front right hubcap. You could also see that the vehicle had a large sunroof, which was not observable in some of the other camera footage. An FBI agent, he goes through his notes and he realizes, "The first guy we interviewed, his car had a sunroof." When they initially interviewed him, he was calm, did not appear to be nervous. He said that he was home all day playing video games. An FBI agent noted, well, he had a sunroof on his car. I sent him back out there with a team and said, "If there's a broken hubcap, let us know immediately." And they went back to that Saturn, looked at the car. A couple minutes later, I get a photo and it's a match. It was the same hubcap that has been seen on the video. The owner of that vehicle was brendt Christensen. Christensen was a young man, 27, who had just completed a master's program with the university of Illinois in their physics department. He was on the list of teaching assistants who were ranked as excellent by their students. He was my T.A., teacher assistant, for physics, mechanics. He seemed pretty knowledgeable, you know, like any T.A. In the physics department, smart, and pretty respectable, know what they're talking about. What was he like? Was he stressed, was he relaxed? He seemed pretty relaxed and seemed pretty mild. You know, he didn't really have, I wouldn't say he had much of a big personality, you know? He was married. He lived in a nice apartment on the west edge of champaign. Certainly didn't fit the profile of a kidnapper. I knew very little about him. I knew that he had no criminal history. He had no police contacts. So there was really nothing of significance in his background. I really wanted to talk to Mr. Christensen. We knew she got into his vehicle. So our plan was to knock on the door. We wanted to ask if Mr. Christensen would be willing to talk to us. It was almost midnight by the time they had the warrant and assembled the team to go out to his apartment. And I just kept saying to myself over and over again, out loud, "I can't believe that it's this easy. I can't believe this is how we're going to catch him, is from that cracked hubcap." When we knocked on the door, he seemed maybe a little surprised, but was relatively calm in his demeanor. When we entered the apartment, we immediately noticed that his wife was undressed. I don't know why she would answer the door in that way. She seemed to be very comfortable. The agents asked her if she would put on clothes, 'cause it would make them feel more comfortable. One of things that was in the apartment that there's a photograph of are the mirrored aviator sunglasses that you can actually see a reflection of Christensen's wife. It's interesting, because when you see those mirrored sunglasses, they're just like the ones that the British student said she saw on the man who tried to talk her into his car. I walked with him inside the apartment, he sat down at his kitchen table. I gave him a copy of the warrant, asked him if he would come and talk to us. Our office was just a mile away. He was very nonchalant. When agent Manganaro asked him if he was willing to come down to the station, he told his wife, he said "Well, everything I've seen in the movies tells me I shouldn't talk to the police. What do you think?" And she nonchalantly said, "Yeah, I think you should go." He agreed to come and interview with us and so myself and detective Stiverson drove him to our champaign FBI office. This is a voluntary interview, so if at any time you're done, we'll drive you back home. Okay. I really had a sense of urgency that, I needed to know where she was, like, now. I know that you picked her

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