'Yale student's body found'

The grounds around the pharmacology laboratory of Yale University looked as pristine today as might be expected from this pillar of the Ivy League, with freshly cut lawns and a blaze of late summer flowers. Only the yellow crime scene tape that surrounded the complex betrayed a sense of profound unease.

As students and faculty members hurried by, they carried with them the news that a body had hours earlier been found hidden behind a wall in the basement of the laboratory.

Wayne Carver, the chief state medical examiner, says the body belongs to Annie Le, a 24-year-old post-graduate student from California who disappeared on Tuesday when she was last seen entering the building.

The body was found on Sunday night - the day on which Le had been planning to marry. The recognition that what began as a missing-person's case had turned into the first murder inquiry at Yale since December 1998 was greeted with fear and consternation around the university's training hospitals and medical research facilities that are concentrated in the vicinity of the pharmacology lab. As one woman student put it: "We're all scared shitless."

"It's put a dampener on the whole beginning of the semester," said Brian Merry, a public health student. "Until we heard the news we'd been hoping she would be found alive."

Melissa Nguyen, a developmental services worker, said she had thought twice before coming into a meeting close to the laboratory. "It preys on your mind. Everybody is a little guarded right now, being cautious about where they go and who they go with, particularly women. Le was a young, vulnerable woman and it's a tragic loss."

Last Tuesday morning Le took a Yale bus from her home, arriving at the laboratory at Amistad Street, about a mile from the core of Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, at about 10am. The building is one of the most high-security premises in the university, by dint of its sensitive research into medical drugs.

One of its 75 video cameras recorded Le entering the building, but to the puzzle of investigators no footage was seen of her ever leaving. Her possessions, including money, credit cards, cell phone and ID, were found in her third-floor office. She also had a desk in the basement where she was carrying out experiments as part of a PhD into the role of proteins in certain metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

A colleague who worked with Le at the laboratory and described her as a "clever, beautiful, active and very hard-working girl", said she had been conducting experiments on mice. The colleague, who asked not to be named, said that because of the controversy surrounding animal experiments, the basement of the building was particularly securely guarded and Le would have had to use her ID card to gain access.

The body is understood to have been found stuffed behind a wall in the basement. Police are also analysing bloodstained clothes, that may not be Le's, which were found hidden behind ceiling tiles in the lab.

The dean of the school of medicine, Robert Alpern, told the student paper Yale Daily News that the level of security was such that it suggests the murderer was someone with entry permission to the basement. "It certainly would be extremely difficult for someone from outside Yale to get into that space. Not impossible, but extremely difficult."

Further weight was given to the theory of an inside killer by police, who attempted to assuage fears among students by saying the murder was not a random act, adding that no-one on the campus was in danger.

A spokesman for New Haven police would not comment on whether any suspect had been identified.

The likelihood that the killer came from within the community of medical students, faculty or support staff has merely heightened the apprehensions of people working there.

Sumayya Ahmad, a medical student based at the adjacent building to Le's laboratory, said she had been unable to sleep after she heard the news.

"It's clearly someone who had access to the building and that's very scary - to think that someone you know and work with did it. We're all shaken up about it - it really messes with your idea of what's safe."

The medical school was planning to bring staff and students together at a meeting with police in which people could vent their anxieties. A candlelit vigil was also being planned.

The tragedy of Le's murder was heightened by the fact that the body was found on her wedding day. She had been due to marry Jonathan Widawsky, a physics graduate student at Columbia University, in a ceremony in Long Island.

In the days leading up to her disappearance, Le had been studying Hebrew, as her fiancé is Jewish. She expressed her excitement about the wedding via Facebook. "Lucky I'm in love with my best friend :) - Less than one week til the big day!"

Police have said that Widawsky is not a suspect and has been cooperating with the investigation.

Le expressed concern about security living in Yale and the surrounding town. She wrote an article published in the medical school's internal magazine in February called Crime and Safety in New Haven. The article concluded: "In short, New Haven is a city and all cities have their perils. But with a little street smarts, one can avoid becoming yet another statistic."


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