Sunday, September 13, 2009

Yale student murdered in the lab

In a tragic end to a 5-day mystery, the body of missing pharmacology doctoral student Annie Le was found today in her lab building at Yale. It was supposed to be her wedding day. The case strikes a cord with me because Annie reminds me of many of the excellent students here in NorCal, where she also grew up.

According to police, the body “was found behind the wall in something called a chase, which is a space that carries utilities from one floor to another.” She was last seen on security camera entering the building Tuesday during daylight hours. Some bloody clothes found earlier in ceiling tiles did not match her attire and may belong to the murderer. It might be some creep from the New Haven ghetto, although the fact that the body was so cleverly hidden suggests some prior knowledge of the building.

Many campuses are in dangerous areas, where land is cheap. Our lab building (in a major research university) is routinely infiltrated by criminals, who wander the halls looking for laptops to swipe. After two laptops were stolen within a week, I e-mailed the campus police chief, whose force was spending 90% time waging war on tree-sitters. She ignored me. Only after I sent a campus newspaper reporter to the department and raised a ruckus among co-workers did we get any response. The building is now locked down after hours, but anyone can come in during the day and hang around. Not long ago, I ran into a suspicious person after hours, posing as a scientist. I confronted him, asked what he was doing, requested an ID, and told him to leave when he refused to produce one. On his way out I called the police and he was arrested as he fled the building. (Several of my colleagues have had similar confrontations, sometimes retrieving their laptops in exchange for letting the thieves go.)

If New Haven is anything like our campus, it is possible Annie ran into a similar situation but was not so lucky. The perpetrator may have cased the building all day and noticed the chase at some point, then returned to use it after the murder. He may have even visited the building before and stalked Annie. I hope police and administrators at universities everywhere take note of this case, as well as the largely-forgotten Virginia Tech massacre, and seriously reassess their security priorities. There are more dangerous things out there in this world than tree-sitters.

1 comment:

Margo said...

That one really is a scary case. Heard about it this morning and got chills. Good for you for confronting a potential perp and calling the cops! Mebbe carry a pocket knife or something too?