Justice for Yingying Zhang

A swelling crowd outside Urbana’s federal courtroom building could be overheard chanting “Justice for Yingying” at Brendt Christensen’s accusal hearing this morning, which lasted a mere nine minutes. Christensen is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service, being held without bond. He will face a judge again on July 5 to determine bond. The indictment hearing is scheduled for July 14, unless there is an indictment from a grand jury prior to that date.

Brendt Christensen’s booking photo

Today’s hearing had to be moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate the members of both families, Yingying’s and Christensen’s. Donning a prison jumpsuit, shackles at the ankles, and dead eyes, Christensen remained silent during the hearing, speaking only to acknowledge understanding of his rights. At minimum, Christensen faces up to life in prison for the kidnapping charge. In federal kidnapping cases where a death has occurred, the penalty is  either mandatory life or the death penalty.

Newlyweds Brendt and Michelle Christensen in 2012, standing in front of the 2008 Saturn Astra that was used to kidnap Yingying Zhang on June 9, 2017.

The day before he was arrested, Christensen brazenly attended the walk for Yingying, smiling while in the arm of an unknown woman who is not his wife.

Meanwhile, Yingying is still missing.

Elizabeth Thomas, 15, Found

At around 11:00 p.m. on April 19, 2017, Tennessee law enforcement received a phone call that led to the rescue of Elizabeth Thomas. That same call ended the manhunt for Tad Cummins, 50, the man who kidnapped her on March 13.

A northern California man, Griffin Barry, said he spoke with Cummins. It all came about when they went to get gas on their way to a commune. They had run into Barry who said they were flat broke and out of gas. Cummins had made up a tall tale about being from Colorado where his home had caught fire, and he and Elizabeth were in need of money. Barry stated he believed everything Cummins told him, and thought Cummins and Elizabeth were married. During the exchange, Cummins kept Elizabeth away and spoke for her.  So Barry gassed their Rogue, gave them $40, and told them to come back for food if the commune didn’t work out.

It’s being reported by Peter LaughingWolf that Cummins and Elizabeth did stay at the Black Bear Ranch commune for about two days, but were asked to leave because they weren’t a good fit, and something didn’t feel right about them. Cummins told LaughingWolf that Elizabeth was 22 years old, but LaughingWolf was skeptical. LaughingWolf also reported that Cummins stormed off the property angrily when asked to leave, which further raised his suspicions about Cummins.

When they returned from the commune, Cummins asked Barry if they could stay on the property he is caretaker of on Eddy Gulch Road in Cecilville, California. Barry called the owner of the property at about 9:30 p.m. asking if they could stay in an unfinished cabin. They were permitted to stay in the isolated cabin if they agreed to work on the property, which had limited or possibly no cell phone service, no power, and two cots inside.  They stayed for a couple of days, during which time a neighbor also noticed their car didn’t have a license plate.  About 36 hours after they had been staying at the remote cabin, Barry said he discovered who they were after seeing a photo of them.  He also realized the Nissan Rogue resembled Cummins’ vehicle, so called it in. The owner of the property later stated Cummins had been in a nearby saloon he owned asking for work.

The following morning, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office Special Response Team traveled two hours before reaching the cabin. On April 20 around 4:00 a.m., law enforcement surrounded the rural cabin and waited out in the cold for Cummins, who was holed up and hiding there.  The citizen who had befriended Cummins assisted police at the scene. They verified the Rogue through its VIN number. Just after 9:30 a.m., Cummins walked out and was arrested without incident by the sheriff’s office. Elizabeth also came out of the cabin, and bore witness to the arrest. Officers stated that it was obvious Elizabeth and Cummins were in a relationship, and her response to the arrest was up and down, emotional then stoic. Deputies further reported that Cummins was cooperative, and had stated he was glad this is over.

Inside the cabin, among other personal belongings deputies located Cummins’ two loaded handguns. One was a 9 mm pistol, and the other was a Ruger .380. Multiple stolen license plates were also found.

Cummins was initially held at the Siskiyou County Jail without bond. He is now in federal custody, scheduled to be arraigned in Sacramento on April 24. He will then be extradited to Tennessee. He faces a federal charge for knowingly transporting a minor across state lines for the purpose of having criminal sexual activity, aggravated kidnapping, and possession of stolen property.

At the time of recovery, Elizabeth seemed healthy and unharmed, but her mental and emotional condition are currently unknown. TBI flew her back to Tennessee on April 21, but at the time of this posting she had not yet been permitted to see her family.  Because she is a minor, her picture and name will no longer be reported here in FMP.