Conn. police closing in on Yale killer
By Ray Henry
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The discovery of a Yale University graduate student whose body was stuffed in the wall of a medical research building brought a painful end to the search for a woman who vanished days before she was to wed her college sweetheart.
Now, investigators appear to be closer to determining who killed 24-year-old Annie Le in a heavily secured building accessible only to students and university employees.
New Haven police officer Joe Avery, the department's spokesman, said police believe no other student is involved in the death, but would not respond to questions about the alleged involvement of others.
"We're not believing it's a random act, that's all I'm giving you right now," said Avery, who also denied reports Monday that police had a suspect in custody.
Several news organizations reported that police were interviewing a possible suspect who failed a polygraph test and has defensive wounds on his body. Avery denied those reports.
ABC News, WNBC-TV, The New Haven Register and the New Haven Independent cited anonymous sources in their reports. The Register and WNBC-TV also identify the possible suspect as a lab technician.
The state's chief medical examiner ruled Le's death a homicide Monday but declined to say how she died, citing the pending police investigation. His office said he expects to have more information Tuesday afternoon, however.
Police are also analyzing what they call "a large amount" of physical evidence, but have not gone into detail.
Le's death, the first killing at Yale in a decade, has shaken some on the Ivy League campus. Hundreds attended a Monday night prayer vigil and some students say Le's death is still troubling.
"I'm not walking at nights by myself anymore," said student Natoya Peart, 21, of Jamaica. "It could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere."
Twenty-year-old Muneeb Sultan said he's shocked that a killing could take place in a secure Yale building.
"It's a frightening idea that there's a murderer walking around on campus," said Sultan, a chemistry student.
Police found Le's body about 5 p.m. Sunday, the day she was to marry Columbia University graduate student Jonathan Widawsky, lovingly referred to on her Facebook page as "my best friend." The couple met as undergraduates at the University of Rochester and were eagerly awaiting their planned wedding on Long Island.
Police have said Widawsky is not a suspect and helped detectives in their investigation.
The building where the body was found is part of the university medical school complex about a mile from Yale's main campus. It is accessible to Yale personnel with identification cards. Some 75 video surveillance cameras monitor all doorways.
Her body was found in the basement in the wall chase - a deep recess where utilities and cables run between floors. The basement houses rodents, mostly mice, used for scientific testing by multiple Yale researchers, said Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale University School of Medicine.
Le was part of a research team headed by her faculty adviser, Anton Bennett. According to its Web site, the Bennett Laboratory was involved in enzyme research that could have implications in cancer, diabetes and muscular dystrophy. Bennett declined to comment Monday on the lab or Le's involvement with it.
Le's office was on the third floor of the five-story building, where authorities found her wallet, keys, money and purse.
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.
They said the building would reopen as early as Tuesday under increased security.
Police activity continued at the crime scene early Monday evening, as uniformed officers with police dogs and workers wearing white suits to protect them from hazardous materials went in and out of the building.
In the Sierra foothills community east of Sacramento where she was named "Most likely to be the next Einstein" in high school, Le was remembered as a high achiever who knew early on that she wanted a career in medicine.
In a Union Mine High School yearbook from 2003, Le said her long-term goal was to become a laboratory pathologist and said it would require about 12 years of higher education.
"I just hope that all that hard work is going to pay off and I'm really going to enjoy my job," she said.
No one answered the door Monday at the Widawskys' gray, ranch-style home in Huntington, N.Y.
"He is a very nice young man," next-door neighbor George Mayer said of Jonathan Widawsky, a 24-year-old seeking his doctorate in physics. "His family, they're all just wonderful people - very, very nice people."
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The death is the first killing at Yale since the unsolved December 1998 death of Yale student Suzanne Jovin. The popular 21-year-old senior was stabbed 17 times in New Haven's East Rock neighborhood, about 2 miles from campus.