Bunches of flowers, several teddy bears, a garland and an envelope flanked a tree near a bus stop at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).
UIUC is holding a memorial for Zhang Yingying on the first anniversary of her kidnapping, reminding people of her kindness, diligence and her young life.
Exactly one year ago, on June 9, 2017, 26-year-old UIUC Chinese visiting scholar Zhang Yingying, on her way to sign a house lease, entered a black Saturn Astra sedan. She has not been seen or heard from since.
Police arrested 28-year-old Brendt Christensen on June 30, 2017, who was a former UIUC doctoral student and charged with the kidnapping, torturing and killing of Zhang.
Addressing dozens of people who attended the memorial, Martin McFarlane, director of UIUC international Student and Scholar Services, said, "I find it very difficult to be standing here talking to you today because I shared it. I shared your feelings of helplessness, a sheer desire to want to do more and not know what that is. I wish it was more that our office could have done. I wish I had some magic words to give you today, but I don't."
"What I do know is that all of us with UIUC continue to feel a great sorrow over the loss of Yingying. We're here today to honor her, to celebrate her life, celebrate all the hope that she had," McFarlane added. "Your presence here says a lot to this, (and) means a lot."
Matt Myrick, interim chief of the UIUC Police Department, was deputy chief when the incident took place. He participated in the investigation and communicated with Zhang's family.
"I met with Yingying's family several times when they were here on campus. Sometimes it's easy to tell somebody that you know how they feel or things are going to be okay. But in this particular circumstance there is no way to know how they feel and it will never be okay for them," Myrick said.
"Life will never be the same again for Yingying's family. I'm a parent and I certainly can't begin to imagine what they've gone through last year. No family should have experienced the type of pain and suffering," Myrick added.
Myrick said he is proud of the campus community for rallying around Zhang's family and providing them with support while they were here; and equally proud of his police department, of the local agencies that have assisted the police and the FBI investigating the case.
"There's nothing I can do to change what happened on that day," he said. "All I can offer is diligence and investigation of this matter, and a relentless pursuit of justice for Yingying and her family."
The trial for Christensen is set for April 2, 2019. He will face the death penalty if found guilty of kidnapping resulting in death.