The family of Zhang Yingying, the Chinese scholar who went missing in June, is facing criticisms and allegations over the fundraising effort supposedly used for her search.
Zhang, 26, is a visiting graduate student at the University of Illinois, and she has been missing from the Urbana-Champaign campus since June 9.
Zhang is believed to be dead, but her body has not been found.
Authorities arrested 28-year-old Brendt Christensen, a former Ph.D. student and teaching assistant at the university, in connection with Zhang’s disappearance on June 30.
Christensen pleaded not guilty to the kidnapping charge in July. His trial is rescheduled to continue in February 2018, according to the Associated Press (via the Chicago Tribune).
Determined to find Yingying, the Zhang family has set up a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe with the help of the University of Illinois. It initially sought for $15,000 to cover the family’s expenses during the search.
The goal, however, skyrocketed to $500,000 in just two months. The fundraising’s purpose was also modified to include the following lines:
“It was Yingying’s will to complete her education and return to China to become a university professor, support her family. At this time, we are asking your support to fulfill YingYing’s wish to help her family. Thank you for helping ensure that Yingying’s dream comes true.”
The changes raised questions among donors and followers of the search. According to Quartz, some speculated that the family could be using the money to move to the U.S. after hiring a lawyer who specializes in immigration and real estate cases.
So far, the campaign accumulated at least $150,000. Some comments on the funding page read:
“The fundraising target increased from 15K to 30K to 50K to 100K to 150K and to 500K in just over a month without any explanations! The fundraising purpose was changed from searching Yingying to support her family without letting everyone know. I would strongly suggest Gofundme to investigate this campaign.”
“Many of my friends donated in hope that the funds could be used towards the efforts of searching Yingying. We were very disappointed that not even one penny was used towards this goal. Instead, the target amount was raised from 15k to 30k, 50k, 100k, 150k, and now 500k with purpose modifying to ‘support her family’!? which we cannot understand.”
“We did not receive any email about how the fund was used to ‘search for her continues.’ I don’t know why and who keep raising the goal yet did not send any update. $500,000 is obviously huge money in both America and China. Yingying is missing. The priority is to ‘search her body’ BUT NOT fulfill Yingying’s wish to give such a huge amount of money to ‘support’ her family.”
“This is definitely a tragedy. However, with over 130k in pocket and a goal of half-million to collect, the family and the campaign organizer should update the donors regularly if and how the funds were used for their stated purpose(i.e.,searching for this poor girl).”
“This is ridiculous. People should stop donating since the money is not even used to help search for Yingying anymore. Seems like the family and her boyfriend are just getting more and more greedy. Using people’s sympathy to make money instead of actually trying to find her.”
Meanwhile, other users demanded receipts, requested for refund and reported the campaign to the platform.
The target goal remains at $500,000 as of this writing.