CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Champaign County Crime Stoppers is offering up to $40,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case of kidnapped UI scholar, Yingying Zhang. It’s the largest in the organization’s history.
Law enforcement and the university held a press conference Monday evening to make the announcement. Police say they are following leads, but can’t discuss particulars about the case.
The visiting scholar has been missing for 10 days. Monday night, her family joined officials to plead for tips. About $70,000 has been raised so far.
This weekend, Zhang’s father, aunt and boyfriend flew in from China to meet with investigators. Zhang’s father says he doesn’t plan to leave the country until he finds her.
The UI Community Credit Union set up an online fundraising page a few days ago.The money raised is going directly to the family. They decided to use it for the Crime Stoppers reward.
“This is largest award Crime Stoppers has ever granted since our inception,” says Champaign County Crime Stoppers president John Hecker, “We’ve been in the business, if you will, for more than 30 years. And I think that underscores the importance of how we look upon this particular case.”
“It’s clear that the community has a real passion for this case,” says Chris Harlan with the UI Community Credit Union, “and they want to see a resolution, so our part is a very small part in managing the financial side of that.”
The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward of its own, separate from the $40,000 gathered for Crime Stoppers. As more money continues to be raised, the family will decide what to do with it.
There’s a GoFundMe page set up for the missing scholar. You can also donate at UI Community Credit Union branches.
Along with the FBI and UI police, people in the community are stepping in to help find Zhang and comfort her family.
Students and others, who didn’t even know her, are putting up posters around town and gathering any information they can They’re letting people know they care, and they’re doing everything they can to help bring her back.
“When I heard her story, it’s just like a family member. We are all foreigners. We are foreign students, international students starting here. We feel like we, by nature, care about her and we want her to be safe.”
Care and concern. This is a message from many people to the Zhang family.
“I feel like this is our community and we have a responsibility as citizens here to make sure it’s safe and reach out and help in a situation like this.”
Ever since Zhang went missing, volunteer groups have been searching for any information which could help find her.
“My lab is one block away from where she got in the car. So I was really concerned about this and I said I can help.”
Yang is from China too, and he’s also a UI student. He joined a volunteer search last Monday and he has a message from Zhang’s family.
“They thank everybody that is involved in searching for Yingying. They thank everybody for their efforts. I spoke with her father. I remember her father saw the posters on a restaurant door. He had tears and it was really sad. But I tried to comfort him saying we will work together and keep focusing on this.”
Through it all, one thing remains in their minds and in their hearts: The hope of her safe return home.
Because this is such a difficult time, the family didn’t want to comment, but people who know them say they’re thankful for all the help the community has provided.
The suspect’s vehicle is described as a black Saturn Astra, four-door hatchback. It appears to be driven by a white male who circles the area prior to making contact with Zhang.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers. Tipsters are always 100% completely anonymous.
All tips submitted to Crime Stoppers are electronically stripped of any personally identifying information and processed by a third-party answering service, not law enforcement.
The FBI is offering up to $10,000 for information to help them find Zhang. Tipsters will never be asked their name and are given a secret code number to use when checking on a possible reward.