CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Missing foreign exchange student found safe after ‘cyber kidnapping,’ police say

Jan 1, 2024, 12:13 PM | Updated: Jan 3, 2024, 11:53 am

missing foreign exchange student Kai Zhuang is found by authorities...

Missing foreign exchange student Kai Zhuang was found safe in the mountains near Brigham City, Utah. KSL NewsRadio has blurred his face for privacy. (Riverdale Police)

(Riverdale Police)

BRIGHAM CITY, Utah — Riverdale Police announced Sunday that officers had found a 17-year-old foreign exchange student who had been missing since Thursday. Police believe ‘cyber kidnappers’ had forced the teen to leave home and isolate himself through threats of violence.

Chinese foreign exchange student Kai Zhuang went missing early Thursday morning from his host family’s home in Riverdale.

Riverdale Police Chief Casey Warren said in a press release that Zhuang’s parents, who live in China, received a ransom request that same day. The request came with photos of Zhuang that made it seem he had been kidnapped.

Police found Zhuang on Sunday, camping along the mountainside near Brigham City. Warren said the teen was cold and scared, but safe. He’s now back home with family.

The investigation

Warren said investigators believe Zhuang’s disappearance was a case of cyber kidnapping.

Warren said that his department worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Embassy in China and Chinese officials to investigate Zhuang’s disappearance. While investigating, the police department learned about a crime called cyber kidnapping.

In cyber kidnapping, kidnappers threaten a victim and their families to get money out of them. The victim is scared into isolating themselves and forced to make it seem like they’ve been traditionally kidnapped. Warren said the kidnappers keep an eye on the victim through video calls.

According to Warren, cyber kidnappers have recently been targeting foreign exchange students in the U.S.

The victims comply out of fear that their families will be harmed if they don’t comply with the cyber kidnappers. The cyber kidnappers continue to extort the family by using fear tactics, photos, and voice recordings of the victim leading the family to believe the kidnappers are with the victim causing them harm,” Warren wrote in the release.

During the investigation, Warren said Zhuang’s parents transferred $80,000 to bank accounts in the U.S. due to continual threats against their son.

Investigators found that the kidnappers had been in contact with Zhuang since Dec. 20, 2023. Police in Provo found Zhuang that day carrying gear and attempting to go camping. Worried about his safety, they took him back to his host family. The teen didn’t report the threats during this interaction.

Found

As authorities kept looking for Zhuang, they found that he had been in the Brigham City canyon area.

“We believed the victim was isolating himself at the direction of the cyber kidnappers in a tent,” Warren wrote.

Police and search and rescue teams launched a search effort to find the teen, concerned he might freeze to death if he continued camping.

They eventually found Zhuang in a tent, alive and safe. He didn’t have many supplies and was found with several phones that police believe were used to carry out the cyber kidnapping.

Warren said the teen was scared but relieved to see the police.

According to Warren, when police found Zhuang, all he wanted was to talk to his family and to get a cheeseburger. He got both.

Police will continue to investigate the cyber kidnapping

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Crime, Police + Courts

Former president Donald Trump, Manhattan trial...

MICHAEL R. SISAK

With trial starting next month, Manhattan DA asks judge for a gag order in Trump’s hush-money case

The Manhattan DA's office asked that Trump be barred from making or directing others to make public statements about people involved in the case.

3 hours ago

Kathy Brandel and her husband of 27 years, Ralph Hendry...

Sharif Paget, Chris Boyette and Polo Sandoval, CNN

Family of Americans believed dead after yacht allegedly hijacked in Grenada describe scene of violence

The family of two Americans who may have been killed in an alleged yacht high jacking in Granada hope the couple might be found alive.

9 hours ago

Police tape drapes the crime scene on a trail behind Lake Herrick at the University of Georgia in A...

Ashley R. Williams, Raja Razek, Priscilla Alvarez, Isabel Rosales and Jaide Timm-Garcia, CNN

Questions remain in investigation of death of Augusta University student found on UGA campus

As the investigation continues into the death of an Augusta University student, officials confirmed the immigration status of a suspect.

10 hours ago

A car ran into a house in Hurricane Sunday morning, police say. No injuries to the driver or the oc...

Devin Oldroyd

Car crashes into house in Hurricane Sunday morning

A car ran into a house in Hurricane Sunday morning, police say. No injuries to the driver or the occupants of the house were reported.

21 hours ago

FILE — Handcuffs hang from a rail inside the Wasatch entry of the old Utah State Prison in Draper...

Mary Culbertson, KSLTV

Man accused of manslaughter after allegedly selling fentanyl that led to overdose

One man was arrested and accused of manslaughter after authorities believe he sold fentanyl to a victim who died of overdose.

22 hours ago

Charles E. Escalera, 21...

Michelle Watson and Maria Sole Campinoti, CNN

Kentucky man arrested in connection with death of Campbellsville University student

A man has been arrested in connection with the death of a student at Campbellsville University in Kentucky.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Missing foreign exchange student found safe after ‘cyber kidnapping,’ police say