Murder puts animal technicians in spotlight

On Monday morning, the animal laboratory technicians who work at 10 Amistad St. showed up for work. It was the first time they had done so since the body of Annie Le GRD ’13, a 24-year-old doctoral candidate in pharmacology, was found in the facility more than one week ago.

Le’s slaying, and the subsequent arrest of animal technician Raymond Clark III, has cast a national spotlight on the work of Yale’s animal laboratory technicians, whose job it is to aid researchers and ensure that laboratory space complies with federal regulations on animal treatment. And now, they are grappling with the fact that police charged one of their own in a grisly murder.

Raymond Clark III worked as an animal laboratory technician in this 10 Amistad St. basement laboratory.
YDN
Raymond Clark III worked as an animal laboratory technician in this 10 Amistad St. basement laboratory.

“It’s been challenging,” said James Macy, who directs the Yale Animal Resources Center. “Folks are just trying to reconcile this whole thing.”

On Thursday morning, the police arrested Clark, 24, in the murder of Le. University spokesman Tom Conroy later said that Yale did not disable Clark’s identification card, which gave him access to the 10 Amistad St. facility, until after his arrest — four days after Le’s body was found. Clark had worked at Yale as an animal husbandry technician since 2004.

In that capacity, Clark helped to care for the rodents in Amistad’s basement laboratory and to make sure that researchers complied with animal subject regulations.

“They’re servicing the cages, changing the cages, taking care of the animals,” Macy said of the animal technicians’ role. On any given day, there are five or six animal technicians working closely with researchers at the Amistad facility, Macy said. He said he did not know how many animal technicians the University employs in all.

At present, Yale’s human resources Web site lists six job openings for the position of “Animal Technician 3,” the post Clark held until his arrest.

Required skills include the ability to lift at least 50 pounds; to observe and evaluate animals for signs of illness; and to maintain, sanitize and decontaminate animal rooms, according to the listing. The job pays between $18.71 and $25.44 per hour.

Immunology professor Mark Shlomchik’s lab spends about $500,000 per year on animal care, Shlomchik said. Animal technicians keep the animals in order, Shlomchik said, and keep researchers updated on animal conditions and any problems the animals develop.

Slomchik, who has done mouse-based research at Yale for more than 16 years, said animal technicians are invaluable. They are “our eyes and ears in the animal room [because] without them we really couldn’t get done what we need to get done,” he said.

Macy said he felt the technicians had been treated unfairly by the media. In his opinion, he said, Le’s murder was a “unique, one-off situation” and not indicative of any systemic problems between the technicians and the researchers with whom they work.

One animal technician, Samantha Sheppard, who has worked at Yale for just over a year, said she has never had any negative experiences with researchers in her lab and their interactions, for the most part, have been positive. Moreover, she said she finds the work challenging — mentally and physically — and feels like she is contributing to researchers’ work.

Sheppard, who has worked for YARC for just over a year, currently works at an animal laboratory at the Sterling Hall of Medicine — one of the buildings in which Le used to work.

The news of Clark’s arrest shocked Sheppard. Clark’s sister and brother-in-law also work in the department — although Macy would not say whether they have returned to work since Clark’s arrest.

“I know that [Clark] does have a lot of friends and family here in the department, which has been made pretty obvious to everyone,” she said. “You see these people every day — you become very familiar with them.”

Comments

  • Cathy O’Dell

    Raymond Clark III is an animal himself. I hope he gets the full weight of the justice system thrown at him. He destroyed so much potential by taking Ms. Le’s life. It is so senseless and horrible. Monsters like him need to be sent to another planet. They do not have the right to live among us on this planet.

  • John

    It truth that a lot of people (including some Yale tech) don’t understand that the mice research are biotools and not pets.
    All the animal used at Yale follows the laws, and the tech always see to the researchers like they are torturing the animals.
    If the crazy guy just kill the student by the animal care. Yale should work hardly to try to make these guys how science works.

  • Stephen

    Is it normal for relative to work in the same department? I thought most companies are not allowed that anymore.

  • Roadbum

    He’d told her repeatedly that she was leaving the animals in a state (usually of filth) that violated the law. He probably felt he was responsible for ensuring that Yale complied with the laws governing the treatment of lab animals. She paid no heed to his warnings and he apparently snapped. Certainly he needs to be tried and, if found guilty, punished. It does seem as if he frequently found the need to control things himself, when he should have gone through channels to fix a problem, or perhaps allowed that there wasn’t really a problem. That doesn’t make him a monster.

    John and Stephen, please go take an English 101 class before you post publicly again. Also, a sentient being doesn’t have to be someone’s pet to be treated humanely.

  • No whitewash

    The big issue is to find out whether there as a culture of student intimidation and bullying going on it that animal facility. The fact that his girlfriend and his in-laws worked there could have fostered an environment in which they acted as a “pack” to bully “powerless” graduate students. We gotta put some pressure on the Yale adminstration to make sure there was no such thing. They should survey all of the female students (not PI’s – these bullies never pick on PI’s, or men) who use that facility and see what the “service” level was! Yale Daily News, this is not just sensational journalism do investigate this matter. It’s your duty – someone just died at Yale.

  • Nate

    The murder of Annie Le was a terrible crime, but one cannot help but to notice the strong Marxist elements in this case. First there is a beautiful princess from an elite school bound for fame and fortune. Then we have her accused murderer, a lowly rat lab worker. Exactly the same age, but only one has a golden ticket. Talk about class struggle! Maybe Yale could do a bit more for its “lower castes” like paying them a higher wage and giving them recognition in university research papers.

  • D. Bhatt

    I agree with the post above, it is very important to find out if there was a culture of intimidation there especially with so many family members working in the same place. Don’t forget Annie Le. Someone didn’t just die at Yale, they died IN Yale’s research building. Who is going to want to come to Yale for school/grad school/anything after this (especially women)?

  • TM

    Who knows what really happened, but it is clear that conflict over the care of mice was part of it. Mice are mice. It’s OK to kill them for no reason if you find them in your home. It’s not a big deal for researchers to use them in important experiments, make them suffer for good reason, and then kill them. Maybe Yale and the federal government should focus more on protecting people, and a little less on mice. Just a thought….

  • EPH95

    I don’t think the lowly-lab tech vs golden-ticket-holding-grad-student comparison is quite right, nor is the suggestion that higher wages or recognition in publications would have a meaningful impact. Actually, I find the class warfare bit almost as lazy as the University’s notion that this case is “just a case of workplace violence.” The University holds the techs accountable for compliance with the various layers of animal protection laws, and essentially asks those techs to police the PIs’ and grad students’ compliance, without any meaningful tools or enforcement ability. What tools or resources could a tech draw from to keep everyone in compliance? What are the consequences for a lab tech whose PI or other researcher didn’t follow the rules? Demotion? Termination? How might fear/concern of those consequences affect someone who is violent, angry and mentally imbalanced? What can the University learn from this horrifying episode?

  • blah blah

    “Exactly the same age, but only one has a golden ticket. Talk about class struggle!”

    Exactly the same age, but only one has the misfortune of having been brutally killed! Talk about an unnecessary and violent struggle ending with death that can’t be rationalized away with “horror stories” about low wages that pale in comparison to the fate that an innocent victim was delivered!

  • Katherine O’Connor

    The tragic event of Annie’s murder should be viewed as a wake-up call to the academic community. There’s a gulf of cultural and academic background difference between the tech and those they work with. In general, the staff members at research and teaching institutions seem to have lost their role in the mission of education. They often complain about their positions and constantly try to elevate themselves to faculty level and play the power game.

  • No whitewash

    #9. May be you are right, but sometime the animal care techs lose sight of the fact that they are there to help the researchers – to teach them the correct way. As a former trainee and current PI, I don’t recall any instance in which someone deliberately abused animals – most of researchers are conscientious, but like everyone else make mistakes. The key is to identify habitual errors and correct them through education and training. Sadly, I’ve heard of few lab techs over the years who became bent out of shape are over minor infractions and took everything personally.

  • James Waters

    I agree with Katherine (#11). There have been widespread problem in the academic world, where technicians’ lack of an educational level comparable with those they work with, i.e., graduate students, would prompt the great possibility of the kind of friction that leads to what we’ve seen in Annie’s murder. It’d be good if the administrators and thesis advisers do their jobs a little better: they should make it clear to the technicians that they are not there to torture the graduate students. They are there to facilitate their learning – and not to use the grad students as doormats!

  • a different kind of class struggle

    This was hardly the case of an “elite princess”. Ms. Le was from a very modest background, the daughter of immigrants, who worked her tail off in school and in obtaining scholarships – a good, old-fashioned rags to riches American story, not one of privilege. Mr. Clark was a popular honor student from a leafy, middle class suburb, who for whatever reason, CHOSE not to go on for higher education and selected a path of downward mobility. There is the dichotomy.

  • labanimal

    Anyone who posted a negative comment should be ashamed of yourself. You’re ignorant. I have been on both sides of the fence. I worked as a tech and in a lab. I have a degree, but because I CHOSE to care for the animals that are used in research doesn’t make me less educated. Again, it makes you ignorant. You have no idea what level of intelligence it takes to take of these animals. Stop calling these employees low rent they are more dentrimental to your research results than your simple mind can comprehend. What happened was tragic for all families involved. But stop facilitating anger and hate with your half baked theories and insults it’s disgusting.

  • Stop hiring so many people from same family

    Clark’s Fiancee and confidant Jennifer Hromadka, brother-in-law Shawn Kent and Clark’s sister Denise Clark Kent STILL work in the Amistad lab. Were these people given lie detector tests to ensure that they did not help their relative hide Annie’s body? I cannot believe that noone saw or heard a thing while a young woman was strangled, killed and then stuffed into wall space in the middle of the day in a university lab.

    Is it also not obvious to Yale that hiring four (4) people from the same family to do work in the same lab problematic? These people will form a pack if you will and I am sure the presence of his sister, fiancee and brother in law made Raymond Clark a lot more imperious, arrogant and predatory than he would have been if he didn’t have his entire family working there.

    A student has died in a Yale lab in broad daylight. I realize violence can happen anywhere but I feel Yale contributed to the crime by hiring many members of the same family to work in the same confined space together. The petite Le never had a chance against the Clarks.

  • getreal

    This is why Animal rights extreemism needs to be identified as a mental illness. These type of people believe that animals have rights over humans. Even those we eat for food. They are psycotic and antisocial. Obviously some of them like this nut are capable of human murder.

  • Its not about the Mice

    The mice had nothing to do with this guy’s need to control and kill. He’s a psychopath obviously. If it wasn’t the mice he would have found another excuse for his rage. Being a control freak doesn’t make someone a killer. It’s a more serious problem of a person with no conscience and who can kill without remorse. This guy killed Annie Le and went to a softball game, like nothing happened? What person does that who is not a sociopath to begin with? He deserves all the punishment CT law can give him and he should never be released back into society.

  • Outsider

    #16, interesting post. But I have read that Clark’s fiancée, sister and brother-in-law have been suspended, and have consequently lost access to the building.

    The reasons for conflict were probably there, but killing someone is a different story. I do believe that there is another motive behind that murder. Someone said on this same site a week ago:

    ‘He was obviously obsessed in some way with Le and they had some sort of confrontation. Whether she started it or he did doesn’t matter, he went over the top and killed her “in passion.”‘

    When he requested a meeting to talk about the mice, he possibly had other ideas in mind.

  • murray

    If Mr. Clark had a problem with the care of animals used in research, there were several avenues for his concern. He could have taken his concerns to his supervisor, to Ms. Le’s supervisor or to the Yale IACUC. He could have documented the problems of the animals photographically and sent a complaint to NIH or the grant funding agency. He could have been a whistleblower anonymously or publicly. He could have taken his issues to his union representative.

    The fact that he sent an e-mail to the student to meet him and then he met with her without anyone else present was not reasonable if he felt that he would be criticized for complaining. He should have met with her with his supervisor or a co-worker to sort out the problem informally.

    The # unacceptable solution was to murder Ms. Le. I have continuously been surprised by the contention that the mouse cages were dirty- I would have expected the mouse cages to be cleaned on a schedule by lab techs or in an automated system rather than cleaned by the graduate students.

  • Smith

    #15 dentrimental?

    The labtech work are invaluable, but they support the research and NOTHING more. They are ALWAYS better payed than graduates and frequently even better than posdocs.
    They CAN NOT MAKE the decisions nor kill anyone just because they may think that thay are torturing the animals.

  • Felix

    #4 You look like these animal extremist that #16 says. That doesn’t mean that you are more sentient than anyone, that means that you are sick because you can not recognize that human and animals are not comparable.
    Also Stephanie #3 and John #2 should go to learn English (though maybe they know more languages than you) but you should go to the psychiatric.

  • Basement person

    Thank-you,#15 labanimal. I am on you side.Secondly #16, this has nothing to do with his family. His family all do work for the same department ,but not all in Amistad.

  • Rachel Green

    Before we get the official version of the details of Annie’s murder, we can only speculate what actually happened in that lab. What we know as facts should be enough to know Yale is run by a bunch of idiots. Really.

    First, they failed to detect any problem that might have led to the murder. People don’t just wake up in the morning and decide that they would strangle someone at work. Normal people don’t do that. So, if Clark III did what he’s accused of doing, Yale administrators failed to detect this consequential deadly outcome. Also they hire four individuals in the same family to work in the same lab. That’s only call for problems, soon or later.

    Second, as a place where “smart people’ congregate, Yale turns out to be not all that a smart place after all. They allow the lab to open knowing a crime had been committed there. When someone checked in but has no records of checking out, logic serves that the person is STILL inside. And if you cannot find the missing person inside, then seal the darn building! But, those genius looked for Annie in the dumpsters somewhere else!

    It’s all a joke. And the joke is on Yale now.

  • MenialMen and the Mouse

    Since Lab techs do the menial works, then why call them “Techs”?
    Had Yale titled these people as “Janitors” instead of “Lab Techs” or informed these “techs” that they were here to do janitorial works and should keep their bounds, this senseless murder could have been never happened.

  • Mouse guy

    #25 Totally agree, I think that the problem is that the people from YARC that all the animals should take care as same as humans. And this are the consequences of selling this crap: one day an unbalance guy lost this mind and kill to someone thinking the mouse savior. Good job YARC!