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Missing Foreign Exchange Student Found ‘Very Cold and Scared’ in Utah Mountains After Suspected ‘Cyber Kidnapping’


Riverdale Police

In a harrowing incident, a 17-year-old Chinese foreign exchange student named Kai Zhang was discovered alone and in distress in a mountainous region in Utah. Officials revealed that the young student was found in a tent in freezing temperatures, prompting concerns for his safety.

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The alarming situation unfolded when Kai’s parents, residing abroad, became targets of a “cyber kidnapping.” Extortionists sent a photograph allegedly depicting Kai as abducted and continuously threatened his parents. Succumbing to the threats, the parents wired $80,000 to Chinese bank accounts as ransom, as disclosed by the Riverdale Police Department in Utah on Sunday.

The parents, troubled by the situation, alerted Kai’s high school, which, in turn, informed the Riverdale police on December 28. The police interviewed Kai’s host family, who were unaware of his absence. The host family asserted that Kai had been at home the previous night, and there was no indication of a forced kidnapping.

Collaborating with the FBI, the U.S. embassy in China, and Chinese authorities, the police discovered the criminal trend known as “cyber kidnapping.” This method involves threatening foreign exchange students, particularly those from China, with a ransom demand. Victims are coerced into isolating themselves, monitored through video calls, and compelled to take photos depicting a false captivity, which are then sent to their worried parents. Fearing harm to their families, victims comply with the demands.

Further investigation revealed that Kai had been in contact with Provo police on December 20, where he was found attempting to go camping with camping gear. Concerned for his safety, Provo police returned him to Riverdale. It is now believed that Kai was already under the influence of cyber kidnappers at that time, although he did not disclose this information to the police or his host parents.

Upon Kai’s disappearance, an extensive search was initiated, with police speculating that he had isolated himself in a tent in the Brigham City canyon area due to the influence of cyber kidnappers. Fearing for his well-being in the cold Utah weather, an overnight search, aided by the Weber County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Drone team, was conducted.

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Kai was eventually located on Sunday in a wooded area near Brigham City by Riverdale police.

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Found alive but severely cold and frightened, he was equipped with minimal supplies, including a heat blanket, sleeping bag, limited food and water, and multiple phones presumed to be used in the cyber kidnapping.

After a checkup by the Brigham City Fire Department, Kai was cleared of major medical concerns. His immediate wish was to speak to his family to ensure their safety and to enjoy a warm cheeseburger.

The investigation into the incident is ongoing.

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