Who is Brendt Christensen?

An in-depth look at the man accused of kidnapping missing University of Illinois scholar, Yingying Zhang. (WCCU)

Welcome to Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

The small, sleepy, Midwest town Brendt Christensen calls home.

Neighbors who wished to remain anonymous, remember the Christensens like any other family on the block-- a friendly couple, with kids who kept to themselves.

The Christensens left Stevens Point in 2013, but news of Brendt’s arrest quickly spread through his hometown.

"I was surprised because that kind of thing doesn't happen here,” Christensen’s former classmate, Sam Swiech, said.

Swiech went to Stevens Point Area Senior High with Christensen.

"We didn't really have any friends that overlapped,” Swiech said. “So I wouldn't really call him a friend, I’d call him a classmate.”

Swiech best remembers Christensen from German class.

“I wouldn't describe him as one of the popular kids, and he wasn't trying to be one of the popular kids,” Swiech said.

He said Christensen had a handful of friends in high school. The small group bonded over darker interests like metal music.

"It seemed like if anyone was going to do it, maybe someone like him was going to do it,” Swiech said.

From Stevens Point, Christensen went on to study physics at the University of Wisconsin Madison, his next stop, Champaign-Urbana.

In May of 2017, Christensen earned his master’s degree in physics from the University of Illinois.

On campus, students knew him as a graduate student and a teaching assistant.

“You walk in, he gives you the problems for the day, and I don't know maybe he would make a joke or something about the test that's coming up,” Christensen’s former student, Noah Popernik, said.

“He wasn't exactly like a friend,” fellow student, Prashanth Sarma, said. “He wasn't someone who would really talk to you, but he was just quiet. But that didn't strike me as odd.”

During the Spring 2017 semester, Christensen taught Sarma and Popernik's freshman physics lab.

Just a few weeks into summer vacation, they’d see their TA in a whole new light.

"I woke up and I was scrolling through my phone and I found the article that said, 'Kidnapping Suspect Found',” Popernik said. “I clicked on it and immediately as soon as I saw the name and I saw the picture of Brendt, I just, my heart just sank into my stomach. I just couldn't believe it.”

No family members of Christensen’s, including his wife, have come forward since his arrest.

It’s important to note that Christensen has only been accused of these crimes, and is innocent unless proven guilty.

28-year-old Brendt Christensen was arrested on June 30 in connection to the missing University of Illinois visiting scholar Yingying Zhang.

Zhang is still missing, and authorities presume she is dead. Christensen has been charged with kidnapping resulting in her death.

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