Utah police say a teenage Chinese exchange student was found alone and cold in a tent in what they call a “cyber kidnapping.”
Kai Zhuang, 17, was reported missing Thursday from his high school, the Riverdale Police Department said. His parents in China contacted the school after receiving their son's ransom photo — and sent $80,000 to bank accounts in China, according to a press release issued Sunday.
Police said they found Zhuang “alive but very cold and scared” Sunday at a makeshift camp in the mountains near Brigham City, using his bank and phone records. Police said he had come there on the instructions of cyber traffickers to isolate himself.
Zhuang was relieved to see the police, adding that “there were no heat sources inside the tent, only a heating blanket, a sleeping bag, limited food and water, and several phones believed to have been used for cyber-trafficking. .”
The Brigham City Fire Department tested Zhuang for cold-related problems. He was cleared of major medical concerns and given a cheeseburger, which he requested.
Zhuang also asked to speak with his family to make sure they were safe, which police helped him do, according to the release.
More than a week before she was reported missing, police officers in Provo picked up Zhuang on Dec. 20 when she allegedly tried to camp, according to the release. They were concerned for his safety, arranged to take him to Riverdale and contacted his family.
Riverdale police said Sunday that Zhuang was already being “manipulated and controlled by cyber traffickers,” but had not told anyone.
On Thursday, police went to his host's home and his host family said they had no idea Zhuang was missing, the report said. They told the police that he was at home the previous night and heard a noise early that morning. Police said there was no evidence that he was forcibly taken from the home.
Riverdale police worked with the FBI, the U.S. Embassy in China and Chinese authorities to track down Zhuang.
Police said the FBI told them that other foreign exchange students, particularly Chinese, had been targeted in similar “cyber-trafficking” scams in the United States. Criminals threaten students, order them into isolation, monitor them through video calls and demand ransom money from their families.
The FBI referred questions back to Riverdale police.
CNN's Kaylene Chasie contributed to this report.