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Yale Lab Killing Was Not At Random, Police Say

This article is more than 10 years old.
This composite photo released by New Haven Police Dept., shows Yale graduate student Annie Le in a video image entering 10 Amistad the morning of her disappearance. (AP)
This composite photo released by New Haven Police Dept., shows Yale graduate student Annie Le in a video image entering 10 Amistad the morning of her disappearance. (AP)

The Yale graduate student presumed to have been killed in her lab building and stuffed into a wall there was probably not the victim of a random act, police said Monday as they sought to ease fears about student safety.

Police found the body around 5 p.m. Sunday, on what was to have been 24-year-old Annie Le's wedding day. She was reported missing Tuesday, and her ID, money, credit cards and purse were found in her third-floor office at the high-security Yale medical school building where the body was found.

An autopsy was under way Monday to verify the identity of the body, found in the wall chase - an recess where utilities and cables are run. Police would not say Monday whether they have a suspect, but said nobody is in custody.

"We're not believing it's a random act," said Officer Joe Avery, a police spokesman. He would not provide further details but said no one else is in danger.

The building where the body was found is part of the university medical school complex about a mile from Yale's main campus and is accessible to Yale personnel with identification cards. Some 75 video surveillance cameras monitor all doorways.

"It's a frightening idea that there's a murderer walking around on campus," said 20-year-old Muneeb Sultan, a chemistry student. "I'm shocked that it happened in a Yale building that had key-card access. It's really sad."

Police have not provided any details on the condition of the body found or how the woman died.

Yale closed the building Monday so police could complete their investigation, according to a message sent to Yale students and staff. Scientists are being allowed in only to conduct essential research projects, and only under the supervision of a police officer.

When the building reopens, there will be extra security both inside and outside, said Linda Lorimer, Yale secretary and vice president.

A friend said Monday that Le never showed signs of worry about her own personal safety at work, although she did express concerns about crime in New Haven in an article she wrote last year. "If she was concerned about (it) she would have said something to someone and they would have known," Jennifer Simpson told CBS' "The Early Show." "And Jon (her fiance) would have known, her family would have known, friends would have known."

Simpson called Le, a pharmacology student from Placerville, Calif., friendly and affable to everyone.
"She was a people person," Simpson said. "She loved people. She loved life. We just can't imagine anybody wanting to harm Annie."

Another friend, Laurel Griffeath, echoed those thoughts on NBC's "Today" show.
"I can't even imagine someone mad at Annie, much less wanting to hurt her," Griffeath said.

Police are analyzing what they're calling "a large amount" of physical evidence.
They will not discuss suspects, other than to say Le's fiance is not a suspect and has assisted in the investigation. The fiance, Jonathan Widawsky, is a graduate student at Columbia University in New York and planned to marry Le on Sunday in Syosset, N.Y. on Long Island's north shore.

Le worked in a lab in the five-story building's basement. Campus officials have said that the security network recorded Le entering the building by swiping her ID card about 10 a.m. on Sept. 8, and have been baffled before Sunday's gruesome discovery that she was never seen leaving.

The university planned a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. Monday at the Ivy League university.

More than 100 local, state and federal police had been searching the lab building for days, using blueprints to uncover any place where evidence or Le's body could be hidden.

Investigators on Saturday said they recovered evidence from the building, but would not confirm media reports that the items included bloody clothing.

Authorities also sifted through garbage at a Hartford incinerator Sunday, looking through trash that was taken from the building in the days since Le went missing.

No one answered the door at the Widawskys' gray, ranch-style home in Huntington, N.Y. on Monday.
"He is a very nice young man," next-door neighbor George Mayer said of Jonathan Widawsky. "His family, they're all just wonderful people - very, very nice people."

Both families belong to the same temple.

Mayer, whose mother had been invited to the wedding, said he hopes whoever committed the crime "gets justice - that he gets whatever he deserves."

Le wrote an article that was published in February in the medical school's magazine. The piece, titled "Crime and Safety in New Haven," compared higher instances of robbery in New Haven with cities that house other Ivy League schools.

Yale students on Monday called the discovery of the body sad, but some said the discovery doesn't make them feel less safe at Yale.

"Obviously it's a city and there are safety concerns," said 18-year-old Peter Spaulding, a student from Maryland. "It can happen anywhere. You have to go on with life."

Law student Lindsay Nash of West Chester, Pa., said she doesn't sense a heightened level of fear on campus.

"There's always an attention to safety here," she said. "I think there's perception that you need to be careful regardless."

This program aired on September 14, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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