‘An idealistic young woman’

Grad students place flowers outside Amistad Park in honor of Annie Le GRD '13.
Grad students place flowers outside Amistad Park in honor of Annie Le GRD '13. Photo by Raymond Carlson.

She was upbeat, friendly, always armed with a smile. Since going missing Tuesday afternoon, Annie Le GRD ’13 has been sorely missed by all who knew her.

Following the discovery of a female body presumed to be Le in the building at 10 Amistad St. on Sunday evening — the same day Le was to wed her college sweetheart — friends, family and colleagues are mourning her loss.

Described as sweet, spunky and smart, the 24-year-old pharmacology student and Placerville, Calif., native was scheduled to be married Sunday to Jonathan Widawsky, a graduate student at Columbia University whom she met at the University of Rochester.

While working overtime in her Yale laboratory in the weeks leading up to her wedding, Le chatted constantly about her excitement for the ceremony, colleagues said.

“Lucky I’m in love with my best friend :),” Le had written on her Facebook profile. According to status updates and wall posts on the profile, Le and Widawsky were engaged in July of 2008 and celebrated their five-year anniversary as a couple in March of this year.

At Yale, colleagues at Le’s lab said she was dedicated to her research. Recently she had decided on the topic of her dissertation: the study of how certain proteins are involved with metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

Associate professor of pharmacology Anton Bennett, Le’s faculty adviser, said Le — who received a National Science Foundation grant in 2008 — had “tremendous potential.”

“I can tell you that we are fond of all our graduate students, and among them Annie was a bright spot,” pharmacology professor Gary Rudnick wrote in an e-mail message Sunday night. “She almost always had a smile when I saw her in the hallways. … This is a very tough loss for all of us in the department.”

Le made an impact not only on those around her at Yale but also on colleagues at the National Institutes of Health, where she participated in a scholarship program during two summers as an undergraduate.

Jennifer Simpson, a fellow NIH scholar who last spoke with Le about four weeks ago, recalled how on one summer night during the program, Le burst into her room with a hankering for Vietnamese food. Traveling on the subway from Bethesda, Md., to a Vietnamese restaurant in Virginia, the two went on a spontaneous “adventure” inspired by Le’s craving. “I thought you’d like it,” Simpson remembers Le saying.

“Annie enjoyed sharing her life with people,” Simpson said late Sunday night. “She wasn’t a loner. She was alive. She had a vibrant personality. She wanted to be there with people.”

At Union Mine High School in El Dorado, Calif., Le was valedictorian and a member of the National Honor Society and the culture club.

Though small in stature, Le stood out among her classmates and was not afraid to speak up for herself. “She was a spunky little thing,” high school friend Cierra Montes said Sunday night.

Shaun Perisho, another one of Le’s classmates, recalled how substitute teachers would often mispronounce Le’s surname (which is pronounced “lay,” not “lee”), one of Le’s pet peeves. But on such occasions, the usually vocal student would hold her tongue out of respect for the teacher, instead glancing back at her classmates with a wry grin.

Le also spent time in high school volunteering at the Marshall Medical Center in Placerville.

Classmate Tiffany Filice described the close relationship Le developed with Filice’s grandmother, who was a patient at the Marshall hospital. Le logged extra hours visiting the woman, who gave Le a graduation gift in appreciation.

Pursuing her passion for science at the University of Rochester, Le received a bachelor of science in cell and developmental biology in 2007. She graduated cum laude with awards for her achievements in biology and her leadership on campus, a spokeswoman for the university said.

But despite her heavy academic workload at Rochester, Le always found time for her friends, who called her energetic and “the happiest girl you’d ever know,” as college friend Mark Biery said in a phone interview around noon Sunday. “She would work those crazy hours, but she would still take time out of her day to come see us, or we would come see her.”

As fellow NIH scholar Michael Torres put it in a phone interview Sunday afternoon: “She’d be the last person that anyone would ever want to see harmed, and that’s, I guess, why it’s so shocking.”

Martine Powers and Victor Zapana contributed reporting.


  • sharon

    thank you for sharing the essence of Annie…Yale holds a special place in all of our hearts in the New Haven area, and I am truly saddened at the loss of this lovely and vibrant young woman, with truly a bright future..

  • Yale 08

    I sobbed while I read this. What kind of monster would end the life of a woman with so much promise just beginning her life?? It’s up to the Yale community to ensure her legacy lives on through both her research and spreading what seems to have been a kind spirit. Her poor, poor fiance…

  • emilyy

    that sucks why her ?
    she was makin sumthin qood
    out of her life is not like she was
    puttin her life to waist …. ;(

  • Ken

    Thank you for the story. However, what is an MED degree? I cannot find it listed at the Yale School of Medicine. Was Annie pursuing an M.D., Ph.D., M.D./Ph.D. or something else? Thank you.

  • Nick

    Thanks for letting us know a beautiful human being behind the picture. Our Vietnamese-American community mourned a great loss of a daughter, a friend, a sister who had so much potential to cure chronic disease like Diabetes. Now we’ve lost that potential. Truly a sad day for all of us!

  • Eric

    Such a sad tragedy. Our thoughts are with Le’s fiance and her family.

  • reply to Ken

    Ken – at Yale undergraduates are identified simply by their year (or anticipated year) of graduation (i.e. John Smith ’12 would indicate that John Smith will graduate with an undergraduate degree from Yale in 2012). Similarly, graduate students are identified by GRAD and their year (John Smith GRAD ’12), law students are identified by LAW and their year (John Smith LAW ’12) and medical students are identified by MED and their year (John Smith MED ’12). Annie Le MED ’13 indicates that Annie would have graduate in 2013 with a medical degree.

  • Vancouver, Canada

    Sometimes you see a picture of a person and you know, you just know that they are one of people that are people magnets.

    Based on the picture of Annie, she was a people magnet; based on the comments from her friends, she was obviously so so so much more.

    My deepest sympathies to her friends, family, and fiance. I don’t know why this has impacted me so much but it has so I wanted to add a few other comments.

    As someone who comes from a family whos’ number has dwindled dramatically over the last few years I want to tell you what I know and believe about death…

    Memories fade but they are never forgotten and the best part is… whenever you think of Annie she will be there to listen.

    Take a moment and unburden your thoughts, speak to her and let her know what you are thinking and feeling. She’ll be listening.

    The bad part is you can’t hear her reply.

    One day you will. But in the meantime I hope you can find comfort in the fact that she can hear your every thought, so speak to her. As often as you want.

    Draw close, especially be aware of her family and fiance and do not let them stray to apathy or self destructive behavior. There is a grieving process, help them through it but draw close together and support each other.

    Believe it or not things like this can split people apart – be patient with each other and remember there are no rules to working through this.

    And work through it you must.

    Once you walk through the shadows of this tragedy, you will be able to honor her memory, many ways… as is prone to happen you will be somewhere or doing something and it will spark a memory of Annie…

    Do not be sad at these times… revel in her memory and thank her for the memory and know that she’ll be there at that very moment to listen and when you meet again she’ll probably say…

    remember that time and thank YOU for the memory.

    I am so so sorry for your loss and I wish I could take a little bit of that burden from you.


  • alum

    “LAW” and “MED” are routinely used by the Daily News for law students and med students. They refer to which “school” they belong to, not necessarily which “degree” they are getting. In this case, Annie was a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology at Yale Med School. By the same token, just because someone is “LAW ’12” doesn’t mean he or she is a J.D. candidate (could be LLM or JSD).

  • Katie

    to clarify…I believe MED 13′ does not mean med school (just graduated from Yale and never saw that term)…she was a PhD student in pharmacology AT the medical school, correct? PhD’s don’t usually have set end dates, only estimations as to when his/her research might be completed.

  • heaven

    I saw this girl once or twice walking to the Yale shuttle on Orange street. A pretty girl,petite.Did’nt see anybody else around her i don’t think. she was not a regular at this stop.
    They seem to be trying to throw the case into the can. we are finding out now that they have a good amount of evidence and have this guy on facebook and myspace with his girlfriend accusing this Annie of things. I was even fooled by the cops lackadaisal investigation as maybe they have the wrong guy. They have the right guy but wrong for City Hall or them

  • Reynald

    Yale University should consider renaming the research lab facility at 10 Amistad Street after Annie Le as a means of honoring her memory…

  • Mark from NC

    Did anyone notice this newspaper places the Lee articel at the bottom of the paper but her killer’s story at the top. The media still glories criminals and gives little attention to the victims of crime.

  • Another Annie

    From all reports, Annie Le was a beautiful person inside and out. Also, her patterns of behavior would seem to rule out not following lab protocols. After all, she has been in labs since she was in high school and has always earned high honors for her work.

    For those who speculate without bothering to read up on facts, please stop. Comments in other sections of the YDN must be incredibly painful to those who have already suffered such a deep loss. Annie was a loving human being in a committed relationship for five years. To speculate that she was cheating with that lab technician is ludicrous in the extreme. Worse yet is the one who speculated that she might have attacked Ray Clark first. She is 90 lbs and 4 feet 11 inches tall, with a very high IQ. Is there any possibility that she could be stupid enough to attack someone who outweighed her by 100 lbs and was so much taller and stronger? Her body has been destroyed and it is up to the courts to decide if Ray Clark did it. Please don’t victimize Annie yet again by wild and hurtful speculation.