Family members of Michelle Le say they are planning a memorial service for her now that the missing nursing student’s body has been found and identified.
In a statement issued late Monday after the Alameda County coroner’s bureau confirmed that the body found in Niles Canyon near Fremont on Saturday morning is Le’s, her family members said, “We are grieving and preparing a memorial service for her — a proper goodbye.”
Le’s family thanked the public “for your support prayers and thoughts” during the search for Le, 26, who disappeared on May 27 from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward.
“Our family has greatly appreciated, and would be at a loss, without the help of so many people and volunteers,” they said.
The family added, “Please continue praying for and supporting Michelle as our family begins the journey to ensure justice in her honor.”
Samuel Merritt University released a statement saying the mood at the school today is one of “heartache and sadness.” Le was a student in the school’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
“This kind of senseless violence is difficult to understand,” university president Sharon Diaz said. “Michelle had so much to live for and sought only to give to others — her life was so pointlessly taken.”
She said counselors are on hand today to help students cope with the loss.
Le left the medical center in Hayward around 7 p.m. on May 27, telling a classmate she was going to go to her car during a break, Hayward police Lt. Roger Keener said.
She never returned. Her instructor later went to the parking garage looking for her and called police to report her disappearance.
Le’s car was found the next morning around 9 a.m. parked on Ponderosa Court, about half a mile from the medical center, Keener said.
Keener said investigators found bloodstains in the vehicle, and it was later determined that the blood was Le’s.
On Saturday, volunteers found a body in an unincorporated area between Pleasanton and Sunol where authorities believe Le had been, based on cellphone records.
The Alameda County coroner’s bureau confirmed Monday evening that the body was that of Le, but said it has not yet determined the manner and cause of her death.
The suspect in Le’s killing, Giselle Esteban, 27, was taken into custody on the morning of Sept. 7 in Union City, Keener said. She was arrested on suspicion of murder, although Le’s body hadn’t yet been found then.
Keener said footage from security cameras at the Kaiser Permanente parking structure showed that Esteban was present around the time of Le’s disappearance.
Additionally, he said, evidence found inside Le’s car indicated that Esteban had been in the vehicle.
He said cellphone records show from wireless tower activations that Le and Esteban traveled along the same route leaving the area just after Le vanished.
Esteban appeared in Alameda County Superior Court on Monday on the charge that she murdered Le, but her plea entry was postponed because she hasn’t yet finalized her legal representation.
Defense attorney Andrea Auer appeared in court Esteban’s behalf, but told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Gary Picetti that it has not been determined whether she will represent Esteban.
Picetti granted Auer a delay and ordered Esteban to return to court on Sept. 28 to finalize her legal representation and possibly enter a plea.
Auer, who was referred to Esteban through Alameda County’s court-appointed lawyer program, told reporters after the brief hearing that she had met Esteban for the first time that day.
Asked how Esteban, who is seven months pregnant, is doing, Auer said, “She’s coping.”
Steven Clark, a former Santa Clara County prosecutor who’s now a defense attorney and a legal commentator, said Esteban’s pregnancy “will delay the case and may make it difficult for her to meet with her attorney.”
Clark said, “It’s very unusual for a murder defendant to be seven months pregnant.”
Keener said Esteban told KGO-TV shortly after Le disappeared that she and Le, who attended high school together in San Diego, had a falling out that had to do with Esteban’s ex-boyfriend.
He said police were still investigating a motive for the crime.