Elias Lolis, the director of graduate studies for pharmacology, said he and those who work in the research lab at 10 Amistad St. still can’t believe, and are still recovering from, what happened there a year ago today.
“We have to convince ourselves that life is normal,” said a biological and biomedical sciences student who works at the building and was friends with Annie Le GRD ’13, the 24-year-old pharmacology graduate student who walked inside 10 Amistad St. on Sept. 8, 2009, and was found dead five days later. “It’s just a building, and it’s just a day — that’s what we keep saying. It’s just a room; it’s just a place.”
That place — and the University as a whole — has changed irreversibly since Le’s death. The University has taken steps to honor Le’s memory and bolster safety on campus, creating a fellowship in her honor, adding security measures and revisiting its workplace violence policy. But University President Richard Levin said no memorial can begin to diminish the trauma.
“A year later, the whole community remains shocked and appalled at the tragedy that occurred,” Levin said.
Students who knew Le said they appreciate the enhanced security measures in the building where she was murdered, but they note that increased security would most likely not have prevented Le’s murder. One year later, working in the building continues to evoke horrific memories. (The three friends interviewed were granted anonymity out of respect for Le’s privacy.)
The University increased the hours of security presence at the building and the number of lab technicians in the basement, say friends of Le’s who still work there. Now, everyone has to swipe into the building at all times. Within the last couple of weeks, the University installed cell phone service in the basement where Le’s body was found — a welcome addition, said friends of Le’s who work there, and one that many in the building asked for in the days immediately after Le went missing.
But even the extra security measures, friends said, would not have mattered since Le’s accused murderer, animal lab technician Raymond Clark III, would have had access to the building anyway.
“If you really think about it, there was nothing that could be done,” Lolis said. “It was a crime against a fellow co-worker. You can have has much security about people coming into the building as possible, but the extra security wouldn’t have done a thing.”
Janet Lindner, associate vice president for administration, said the University has since revised its workplace violence policy, requiring all employees to report threatening, intimidating or violent behavior on campus and increasing training for staff. But she, too, noted that different policies would likely not have prevented the death, as nothing in Clark’s history indicated he might commit a heinous crime.
Clark has pleaded not guilty.
In addition to beefing up security on the School of Medicine campus, in May the University announced that two students were awarded the first fellowship in honor of Le.
“She was a very serious student, admired by fellow students and professors,” Levin said. “It seemed like establishing a scholarship in her name would be a fitting memorial.”
Yale gave $100,000 to the fellowship, awarded to students in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program. Lolis said those choosing the recipients wanted to reward students who showed both academic prowess and compassion for their community.
Jason Wallace GRD ’12 said being awarded the fellowship was “bittersweet.”
“I think everyone would agree they would rather there be no need to create it,” he said.
Tonight there will be a private gathering organized by Le’s former faculty advisor, Anton Bennett (who could not be reached for comment), and University Chaplain Sharon Kugler to remember Le, said Mary Hu, a Yale School of Medicine spokeswoman.
At the beginning of last school year, Le had won a National Science Foundation fellowship and suggested making a presentation to new students to teach about the process of applying. Lolis offered to present it, but Le told him she would do it because the students would be more at ease if there were no professors present. That year, only two NSF fellowships were awarded in pharmacology, and both went to Yalies.
“It must have had a bit of an impact that she gave this [presentation],” Lolis said.
This year another student gave Le’s same presentation in her stead. The student said that while it was hard to give the presentation, Le would have done it had she been alive, and would have encouraged others to do so as well.