Officials have determined that badly decomposed human remains discovered over the weekend in a California canyon are those of Michelle Le, the missing nursing student and San Diego native who disappeared in May while taking a school break.
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Hayward police on Monday said tests by the Alameda County coroner on the remains confirmed they were those of the 26-year-old Le. Police said the coroner has not yet determined Le's cause or manner of death, and declined to release any further information.
Police suspect Le's former friend Giselle Esteban, 27, attacked Le in the parking garage of the hospital where she was doing a clinical rotation. Esteban knew Le in high school in San Diego and was arrested earlier this month and charged with murder. She has not yet entered a plea.
On Saturday, police and volunteer searchers discovered the remains off a dirt trail in a rugged San Francisco Bay area canyon. Police said cell phone signals from Le and Esteban had been received from the area.
10News learned on Monday that Carrie McGonigle was the one who located the remains. McGonigle is the mother of 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who was brutally murdered in Escondido in 2009. In Amber's honor, McGonigle established Team Amber Rescue, which helps find missing loved ones.
In a statement, Le family spokeswoman Krystine Dinh acknowledged receiving the news and thanked police and others who helped search for Michelle:
"Tonight, our family has been notified that this weekend, we have found Michelle.We want to acknowledge the numerous parties who have helped us spread her story and bring her home to us, including the Hayward Police Department, the KlaasKids Foundation, Team Amber Search and Rescue, and our dedicated and loving volunteers.We want to specifically thank Inspectors Ritchie and Coffey for their outstanding support and work with us from the beginning.Please note that our family members will not be able to speak extensively on the case and we are not involved with any speculation between any or all of the parties and individuals. We ask for privacy and respect during this difficult time, as we are grieving and preparing a memorial service for her - a proper goodbye.Any questions related to the criminal case should be deferred to the Alameda County District Attorneys office.Thank you for your support, prayers and thoughts. Our family has greatly appreciated, and would be at a loss, without the help of so many people and volunteers.Please continue praying for and supporting Michelle as our family begins the journey to ensure justice in her honor."
Hayward police also released a statement on Monday saying, "Although the identity of the remains has now been confirmed, forensic pathology examinations are now ongoing to determine, to the extent possible, the exact manner and cause of Michelle's death."
At the time of her May 27 disappearance, Le was working on a bachelor's degree program at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, combining classroom work with clinical training.
Her family said she decided to go into nursing because she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother.
University spokeswoman Elizabeth Valente has described the young woman as "a ray of sunshine" with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for nursing. She was well-liked on campus, Valente, said.
After Le's death, police found her locked Honda SUV a half-mile away from the hospital where she was training.
Cell phone records show that both Le and Esteban's phones "traveled on a similar path" from the hospital to other locations in Alameda County immediately after Le disappeared, a police inspector wrote in an affidavit.
Since Le's disappearance, relatives, law enforcement agencies and volunteers focused their searches in the craggy terrain between the cities of Pleasanton and Sunol.
Police Lt. Roger Keener said cell phone forensics helped investigators target the Niles and Sunol Canyon areas, but difficulties in traversing the thick brush had forced search teams to return to the area more than a dozen times.
Le's family has received help from the KlaasKids Foundation and Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted from a slumber party in 1993 and later found slain.
The foundation has worked with the Le family from the beginning and helped register volunteers and establish protocols for the search on Saturday, Keener said.
Esteban, 27, is due back in court Monday after a judge postponed a plea hearing so she could get an attorney. She was being held without bail.
Esteban told KGO-TV in June that she hated Le because Le was friends with the father of Esteban's 5-year-old daughter. Esteban denied having anything to do with Le's disappearance.
In the affidavit, Hayward police Inspector Fraser Ritchie wrote that video surveillance footage shows Esteban at the scene before and after Le's disappearance.
Police said they found traces of Le's blood inside her SUV and physical evidence that Esteban had also been inside the vehicle, as well as Le's DNA on one of Esteban's shoes.
Le was about halfway through a 12-month accelerated bachelor's degree program at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, combining classroom work with clinical training, which is what Le was doing at the time of her disappearance.
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