Annie Le was so focused on academics that, even though she was the valedictorian of her high school class and her classmates voted her “most likely to be the next Einstein,” she filled out 102 applications for scholarships.
“My tongue is sore from licking envelopes, my wrist hurts from typing and stapling, and the post office clerk knows me on a first name basis,” she wrote in a one-page primer she left in the files of the school in El Dorado, Calif., “but other than that, there is nothing I can complain about; It was not difficult at all!”
Her work paid off, literally: She received $160,000 in scholarship offers, said Tony DeVille, who became principal three years ago, three years after she graduated.
The money took her to the University of Rochester in upstate New York as an undergraduate. She went on to Yale, where, as a 24-year-old graduate student, she was studying pharmacology and planning her wedding to another serious-minded student from her days in Rochester. It was to have taken place on Sunday.
But Le’s promising life ended in the basement of an ultramodern science building that has what other graduate students at Yale described as tight security. The police in New Haven, Conn., said on Monday that they had identified the body found on Sunday in the wall of that building, on Amistad Street near Yale Medical School, as Le’s.
A statement issued by the office of Connecticut’s chief medical examiner said her death was classified a homicide.
A spokesman for the New Haven police said her killing “doesn’t appear to be a random act,” but would not say why it was not. Further reassurance from the authorities was scant: the spokesman said no arrests had been made, and the medical examiner’s office withheld the cause of death “to facilitate the investigation.”
On Monday night, hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil at Yale for Le, and the university promised additional security at the lab building, which was closed on Monday while investigators swarmed in, looking for possible clues. Yellow police tape fluttered on two nearby streets, keeping traffic away.
But the yellow tape did not prevent people from placing bouquets and candles at the metal fence leading to the lab building, a few blocks from Yale’s storied Gothic campus and close to Yale-New Haven Hospital. And the case raised fresh questions about safety there.
Le, who watched experiments with laboratory mice at the lab building, had herself weighed in on the subject of campus safety less than eight months ago, when she wrote an article for a student magazine on how to avoid becoming “yet another statistic.”
Yale students interviewed on Monday echoed what she had written — that living in New Haven requires a certain urban awareness. “I always take precautions,” said Megan Quattlebaum, 28, a third-year law student. “New Haven is a city. It has city problems.”
But Leslie Tung of Kalamazoo, Mich., whose daughter is a freshman, said it would be “terrifically misguided to be walking around consumed by fear.”
“I don’t think you can worry about living in a college setting,” he said, “or else you stop living.”
He said he was not worried about his daughter. “She knows to lock her door and be careful,” he said.
Le’s absence was first noticed last Tuesday, after her purse — with her identification, her cell phone and some money — was found in her office, in another Yale building a few blocks from the lab building. Investigators watched hours of video from dozens of cameras around the lab building and saw someone matching her description — a young woman in a bright green T-shirt and a brown skirt — go in.
They never saw her leave.
The body was discovered about 5 p.m. Sunday in a recess for utility pipes and cables behind a wall.
Le’s disappearance preoccupied Yale within hours after she was reported missing. The search recalled a troubling case from December 1998 that has never been closed: the stabbing death of Suzanne Jovin, a Yale senior whose body was found in a neighborhood not far from the campus.
By Thursday, Yale officials said that more than 100 law enforcement officials were looking for Le.
On Saturday, the police were said to have found bloody clothes above ceiling tiles in the lab building, though other reports said the clothes were not the same ones Le was last seen wearing. On Monday, Officer Joe Avery, the police spokesman, confirmed that clothes had been found in the ceiling but would not say whether the police knew whose they were.
On Sunday, a separate search was conducted at a waste-processing facility near Hartford where trash from New Haven is taken. If a body had been dumped, it could end up there. Officials did not say what, if anything, they found.
But investigators, working with blueprints of the lab building on Amistad Street, continued the search there. The building, open for only two years, was planned to be energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Among other things, it collects rainwater on the roof, treats it and circulates it through the building to flush the toilets.
On Monday, Linda Koch Lorimer, Yale’s vice president and secretary, said the university was “cooperating in all possible ways with the police to ensure they find every shred of physical evidence” in the building.
She said the building was closed for the day “so that the police can continue their investigation.” She said that people with “essential research responsibilities” were being let in, but they had to be accompanied by a police officer.
Le’s friends remembered her as someone who could juggle a joke with serious scientific research, someone who loved bargains and thought nothing of hunting down $2 shirts at Old Navy stores because the $5 ones were too expensive. Some described photographs of her and her fiance, Jonathan Widawsky, from a costume party.
Dennis Jones, a graduate student in immunology, said he often saw her at lunchtime, walking along the block between her office and the lab building where she was apparently killed. Many times, he said, she was pushing a cart with the mice she used for experiments. He said it took three levels of security to get into the basement of the lab building, including two swipes of a security card.
“She was going to go out and change the world,” said Virginia Hamilton, a librarian and club adviser at the high school in California. “She was very smart, but not the quiet, nerdy type.”