Ten hour days, and still smiling

As police and law enforcement officials continue to search for Annie Le GRD ’13, onlookers raced to piece together her life story, hoping to find clues that could help resolve her case.

Le, who was reported missing Tuesday, is known for her work ethic. The 24-year-old graduate student spent 10 hours each day in her pharmacology lab, and lately, those hours had grown longer — Le was trying to get ahead before her Sunday wedding. She recently picked a topic for her dissertation: understanding how certain proteins are involved with metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

Le and her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky, were scheduled to wed on Sunday
Courtesy ofFacebook
Le and her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky, were scheduled to wed on Sunday

Le’s parents, Robert Linh Nguyen and Ngoc-tuyet Bui, did not return telephone messages seeking comment Thursday. Neither did her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky, though University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said he is cooperating with the investigation.

Minh Nguyen, Le’s uncle, said he was shocked to learn of Le’s disappearance.

“I didn’t want to believe it; I just went numb,” he said, adding that Le and Widawsky visited him in California just four weeks ago.

Le is also known for her energetic demeanor. Le is set to marry Widawsky on Sunday at the North Ritz Club, a private reception hall in the Long Island hamlet of Syosset. Widawsky is Jewish, and in the last few months Le took on a side project in advance of the marriage: She began studying Hebrew.

She seemed “hell-bent on getting married,” Nguyen said. Indeed, in a series of Facebook status updates posted on Sept. 6 and Aug. 31, respectively, Le expressed her excitement about the coming wedding.

“Less than one week til the big day!”

“EEEEEKKK! 13 days til the wedding!”

And this, in a May 13 posting to Le’s wedding blog:

“In terms of consumables, I’m most excited about the pigs-in-a-blanket,” she wrote. “I love those yummy mini hotdog confections.”

“She was always talking about the wedding,” said Joseph Schlessinger, chair of the Department of Pharmacology. His department, Schlessinger said, “knows nothing” about Le’s disappearance. “We are just concerned; we are like her parents,” he said.

And they are praying for the safe return of the young woman whom faculty adviser and assistant pharmacology professor Anton Bennett dubbed a “fabulous student.” That praise was echoed by Le’s faculty mentor from her undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester.

“Annie is an outstanding student, smart, personable, and well-liked by everyone,” said Rocky Tuan, an expert on stem cell biology who now teaches at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Tuan, too, said he was shocked to hear of her disappearance.

Scott Bussom, an associate research scientist in the Pharmacology Department, works down the hall from Le’s lab — and before Tuesday, he saw her around all the time, he said.

“She seemed like a real hard worker,” Bussom said, “always here, always doing something.”

And wherever she went, Le was cautious. During the workday, Le was always “very transparent” about where she was going, Bennett said, keeping colleagues up to date on her whereabouts.

Seven months ago she wrote an article — “Crime and Safety in New Haven” — for B Magazine, a student-run publication at the Yale School of Medicine.

“New Haven is a city, and all cities have their perils,” she wrote, “but with a little street smarts, one can avoid becoming yet another statistic.”

In the article, Le offered her fellow Elis advice on how to avoid being robbed or having one’s car stolen in New Haven and interviewed James Perotti, chief of the Yale Police Department, who gave her six tips for preventing crime.

“She did not feel safe in New Haven,” Schlessinger said, adding that her 4’ 11” stature would have made her an easy target.

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