EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. — In the front of the Holy Trinity Catholic Church sat a casket draped in a white cloth, bathing in the sunlight pouring through the church’s large windows. It contained the body of Annie Le GRD ’13, which was found nearly two weeks ago in a wall of the Yale research lab where she worked.
About 700 family members and friends gathered here on Saturday afternoon for Le’s funeral mass, where the Yale graduate student was honored in Catholic prayer and remembered by her family for more than simply her academic achievements.
The church’s pastor, Monsignor James Kidder, called the service “a chance for the family itself to come to reconciliation with what humanly is irreconcilable: not only the fact that Annie died, but the way she died.”
Le’s uncovered casket was brought in by her brothers and cousins, who dressed in black suits with white scarves and gloves. The early half of the service was characterized by three readings chosen by Le’s family in both Vietnamese and English from Job, Paul to the Corinthians and Matthew.
Kidder spoke about Le’s emotional dedication to her chosen field of medicine. He cited her care of the sick and her volunteer work at Marshall Hospital in El Dorado County.
“[She had] a heart that led her to say she wanted to do the best and be the best, to keep people from having their lives cut short,” he said. “Ironic, isn’t it, that her life was cut short?”
After the Eucharist, members of Le’s family — including her mother, siblings and maternal great uncle — gave eulogies in memory of Le. Her fiancé, Jonathan Widawsky, whom Le was supposed to marry on the day her body was found, looked on stoically.
Le’s mother, Vivian Van Le, addressed him directly at one point. “Jon,” she said, “even now Annie is gone, but I still have you. I love you very much.”
She then read a poem in Vietnamese. Le’s brother Christopher translated it afterwards.
“Farewell my child,” it began. “You are here lying in the cold coffin.”
Le’s brother Dan Nguyen then spoke about the “silly girl” that Le was. He remembered her even when she was older playing with stuffed animals, watching cartoons with their little brother and “talking to [him] as if [he] was still a five year old.”
“It was through these little things that she did,” he said. “Her silliness and friendliness and not her academic achievement that she made the most impression on us.
Vuong Van Vu, Le’s maternal great uncle, spoke in Vietnamese and Robert Linh Nguyen, her uncle and guardian, gave acknowledgements in both Vietnamese and English.
Before the final commendation given by the Rev. Dominic Hung, the bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento, Jaime Soto, spoke making reference to the violent nature of Le’s death, for which a Yale animal technician, Raymond Clark III, has been charged.
“We do not let cruelty or violence own the sorrow,” he said. “We let love own the sorrow. It was Annie’s love for her family and friends, for her fiancé that give us such sorrow as well as our love for her.”
As the service concluded with the hymn “Be Not Afraid,” the guests filed out of the white-walled church. Outside, Le’s mother wept.
There was a private graveside service following the mass. Yale will hold a memorial service for Le on Oct. 12 at Battell Chapel.
Brittany Bottini reported from El Dorado Hills, Calif., and Esther Zuckerman from New Haven.