Yale Killing Not a ‘Random Act,’ Police Say
By JAMES BARRON and LISA W. FODERARO
Published: September 14, 2009
NEW HAVEN — The police in New Haven have said that the apparent slaying of a 24-year-old Yale graduate student “doesn’t appear to be a random act,” a spokesman said, suggesting that she had been singled out.
The body of the student, Annie Le, was found behind a wall in a laboratory building near the Yale Medical School on Sunday night. Her identity was confirmed in an autopsy on Monday, according to the office of Connecticut’s chief medical examiner.
A statement issued by the medical examiner’s office said Ms. Le’s death had been classified a homicide. The statement said the cause of death was not being released “to facilitate the investigation.”
Ms. Le had disappeared last week. Surveillance video showed her entering the lab building around 10 a.m. Tuesday. None of the cameras trained on the building showed her leaving.
Yale said it was planning a candlelight vigil for Ms. Le, who was studying pharmacology. The university also promised additional security at the lab building, which Yale closed on Monday while investigators swarmed in, looking for possible clues. Yellow police tape fluttered on two streets around the lab building, keeping traffic away.
But the yellow tape did not prevent people from placing bouquets and candles at the metal fence leading to the lab building, and the case inevitably raised fresh questions about safety at Yale. Ms. Le herself had weighed in on the subject less than eight months ago, when she wrote an article for a student magazine on how to avoid becoming “yet another statistic.”
Students interviewed on Monday echoed what she had written — that living in New Haven requires a certain urban awareness. “I always take precautions,” said Megan Quattlebaum, 28, a third-year law student. “New Haven is a city. It has city problems.”
But Leslie Tung of Kalamazoo, Mich., whose daughter has just entered Yale, said it would be “terrifically misguided to be walking around consumed by fear.”
“I don’t think you can worry about living in a college setting, or else you stop living,” he said.
He said he was not worried about his daughter. “She knows to lock her door and be careful,” he said.
Ms. Le’s absence was first noticed on Tuesday, after her purse — with her identification, her cellphone and some money — was found in her office, in another Yale building a few blocks away. Investigators watched hours of video from dozens of cameras around the building and saw someone matching her description — a young woman in a bright green T-shirt and a brown skirt — going in.
The body, found on what was supposed to have been her wedding night, was discovered in a recess for utility pipes and cables behind a wall.
The discovery ended a six-day search for Ms. Le, whose disappearance began with speculation of a runaway bride but quickly gave way to near-certainty that a crime had been committed. Her disappearance recalled a troubling case from December 1998 that has never been closed: the stabbing death of Suzanne Jovin, 21, a Yale senior whose body was found in a neighborhood not far from the campus.
Ms. Le’s disappearance preoccupied Yale within hours after she was reported missing. By Thursday, Yale officials said that more than 100 law enforcement officials were looking for Ms. Le. A $10,000 reward was posted for her whereabouts.
On Saturday, the police reportedly found bloody clothes above ceiling tiles in the lab building, though other reports said the clothes were not the same ones Ms. Le was last seen wearing. On Monday, Officer Avery, the police spokesman, confirmed that clothes had been found in the ceiling but would not say if the police knew whose they were.
On Sunday, the search appeared to have moved to a waste-processing facility on the industrial fringe of Hartford where trash from much of New Haven, as well of the rest of the state, is burned to generate electric power. Officials did not say if they had found anything there.
But investigators, working from blueprints of the lab building on Amistad Street that houses three of Yale’s research programs, continued searching every literal nook and cranny of the building for clues.
On Monday Linda Koch Lorimer, a Yale vice president, said the university was “cooperating in all possible ways with the police to ensure they find every shred of physical evidence” in the building on Amistad Street.
She said the building had been closed for the day “so that the police can continue their investigation.” She said that people with “essential research responsibilities” would be let in, but would be accompanied by a police officer.
She said Yale officials expected to know by the end of the day whether the building would have to stay closed longer.
Ms. Le’s friends described her as friendly and outgoing. Dennis Jones, a graduate student in immunology, said that he and his own thesis adviser had interviewed Ms. Lee in the fall of 2007 as she was arriving at Yale. “She was a focused person,” Mr. Jones said. “She asked the good questions, like what’s the working environment in the lab. Most people are afraid to ask that.”
Since then, he said, he often saw her at lunchtime, walking along the block between her office and the building where she was apparently killed. Many times, he said, she was pushing a cart with the mice she used for experiments. He said it took three levels of security to get into the basement of the lab building on Amistad Street, including two swipes of a security card.
“She was going to go out and change the world,” said Virginia Hamilton, a librarian and adviser to the culture club at the high school Ms. Le had attended. “She was very smart, but not the quiet, nerdy type.”
Ms. Le had not only been valedictorian of her class, but her classmates voted her “most likely to be the next Einstein.”
Tony DeVille, who became principal of the school three years ago—three years after she graduated—said she was well-known among the faculty for devoting more than an hour each night to writing essays and filling out applications for scholarships.
Her work paid off, literally: She received $160,000 in scholarship offers, he said.
She wrote a one-page primer for future students on how to apply for scholarships was still in the files of the high school’s career center on Monday. The paper described her concern about affording college and the process of applying for 102 scholarships.“My tongue is sore from licking envelopes, my wrist hurts from typing and stapling, and the post office clerk knows me on a first name basis,” Ms. Lee wrote, “but other than that, there is nothing I can complain about; It was not difficult at all!”
The money took her to the University of Rochester, where she met Jonathan Widawsky, now a graduate student at Columbia University. They planned to be married on Sunday at a catering hall in Syosset, N.Y. They had invited more than 160 guests. Mr. Widawsky was not considered a suspect and was said to have cooperated with the police in New Haven.