Five days after Annie Le GRD ’13 was last seen, the authorities found what they believe to be her body on Sunday behind a basement wall in the Yale research facility at 10 Amistad St.
The case is now classified as a homicide and will be investigated primarily by the New Haven Police Department. Peter Reichard, the NHPD’s assistant chief of investigations, said at a press conference Sunday evening that law enforcement officials have still not identified any suspects in the murder of Le, who was supposed to be married yesterday.
Speaking to reporters outside Woodbridge Hall late Sunday night, University President Richard Levin conveyed the “deeply felt support of the entire Yale University community” and said “our hearts go out to the family of Annie Le, to her fiance, to her friends.”
“The investigation will continue,” Levin said, adding that authorities are conducting an autopsy and identification of the remains. “We have every hope that it will be successfully resolved.”
Law enforcement officials have now sealed the building at 10 Amistad St. where the body was found shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday. Footage from security cameras shows Le entering the building at 10 a.m. Tuesday but never leaving; now the investigation will focus on what she did and where she went once inside.
Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees campus security, said earlier this week that access to the rooms and labs inside the building is restricted and digitally monitored. Authorities said they know who was in the basement at the time when Le entered.
Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine, where Le was studying for a Ph.D. in pharmacology, said in a telephone interview Sunday night that access to the basement where Le was found is limited to certain people with approved Yale magnetic identification cards, as it is at all University facilities where research is conducted on animals.
“I think that it suggests it was someone who could get into that space,” he said. “It certainly would be extremely difficult for someone from outside of Yale to get into that space. Not impossible, but extremely difficult.”
Still, there remain more questions than answers about the circumstances of Le’s death.
Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said last week that Le’s fiance, Jonathan Widawsky , was not a suspect and that there was “not a worry” about his involvement in what was at the time considered a missing person case. She added that he and Le’s family has cooperated with authorities.
Along with the NHPD, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Connecticut State Police and the Yale Police Department all remain involved in the investigation. In a campuswide e-mail titled “Tragic News,” Levin said the autopsy to identify the body will be performed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Connecticut.
Authorities first learned of Le’s disappearance when a roommate reported her missing at about 9 p.m. Tuesday, YPD Chief James Perrotti said. The police quickly began investigating the matter and learned that she took a Yale Transit bus from her apartment at 188 Lawrence St. to her office at the Sterling Hall of Medicine early Tuesday morning.
Later in the morning, she walked from that office to 10 Amistad St., leaving her purse, cell phone and wallet behind. She took her Yale identification card with her, and the surveillance footage shows her carrying another object as she entered the building. Officials have not said what she was carrying.
At 12:40 p.m. on Tuesday, a fire alarm sounded in the building. The special agent in charge of the FBI in Connecticut, Kimberly Mertz, said at a press conference Saturday that the alarm was caused by a release of steam from a laboratory hood. She said it was possible that the steam was intentionally released by a person.
There were few other leads in the investigation until the weekend. Authorities seized bloody clothes on Saturday, though a Yale police source said the fabric was not a piece of clothing that Le was known to have been wearing and said it was not clear at the time whether the fabric had human blood or animal blood on it.
On Sunday, after lead investigators arrived at Amistad Street in the morning, dogs from the Connecticut State Police were seen entering the building. The bloodhounds had been part of the search since Thursday, as had more than 100 law enforcement officials from the various agencies.
Some of those officers were in Hartford on Sunday searching through trash at the garbage incinerator there. Other authorities had searched through trash in the dumpsters outside the Amistad Street facility in prior days.
Mertz said Saturday that authorities had already interviewed “numerous people” who saw Le inside the building on Tuesday, but she declined to give any further details. There are 75 cameras around the building and in the surrounding area; investigators spent a large part of their time examining all the video footage to determine if Le, who was 4-feet-11-inches and weighed 90 pounds, could be seen exiting.
The killing is the first homicide in New Haven since mid-March and, assuming the body is identified as Le’s, the first killing of a Yale student since Suzanne Jovin ’99 was stabbed to death on Dec. 4, 1998.
Reporting was contributed by Isaac Arnsdorf, Nora Caplan-Bricker, Florence Dethy, Zeke Miller, Martine Powers, Colin Ross, Divya Subrahmanyam, Victor Zapana and Esther Zuckerman.