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Michelle Le's remains identified

A high school acquaintance has been charged with murder in the case of the East Bay nursing student who had been missing since May. The skeletal remains were found in a canyon Saturday.

September 21, 2011|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • What turned out to be the remains of Michelle Le, above, were found by the mother of 2009 Escondido murder victim Amber Dubois, 14. Carrie McGonigle had joined the search as part of a group she had started to assist families looking for missing relatives.
What turned out to be the remains of Michelle Le, above, were found by the… (Associated Press )

Reporting from San Francisco -- Skeletal remains found in a canyon east of San Francisco have been identified as those of Michelle Le, a nursing student who vanished in late May, police said Tuesday.

Le, 26, was working at a hospital in the East Bay city of Hayward on May 27 when she went to her car to retrieve something and did not return.

Her family organized repeated searches in the canyons near Hayward, taking clues from cellphone records that showed where Le's phone was in the hours after she disappeared.

Carrie McGonigle, mother of Escondido murder victim Amber Dubois, 14, discovered Le's remains Saturday during one of the searches. McGonigle had started a group, Team Amber Rescue, to assist families looking for loved ones, and team members had joined Saturday's search party.

McGonigle told police that her white Labrador retriever, Amber, led her to Le's remains. McGonigle's daughter was snatched outside her high school in Escondido in 2009, and her remains were found a year later.

Giselle Esteban, 27, has been charged with Le's murder, authorities said Tuesday. Esteban, who went to high school with Le in San Diego County, blamed Le for causing Esteban's breakup with her boyfriend, police said. Esteban told a television station earlier this year that she hated Le but had nothing to do with her disappearance.

Security cameras in the hospital garage where Le parked showed that Esteban was in the structure about the time Le disappeared, Hayward police said. They said they also found traces of Le's DNA on one of Esteban's shoes, and cellphone records showed that Esteban's and Le's phones traveled together in the hours after Le vanished.

"The evidence against her is going to be overwhelming," said Lt. Roger Keener, a spokesman for the Hayward Police Department. He said Esteban provided no information to assist those searching for Le.

Esteban, who is several months pregnant, already has a child with her estranged boyfriend. The boyfriend accused Esteban of threatening him and obtained a restraining order against her days before Le disappeared. Le's family said she was friends with the man but not romantically involved with him.

Keener said police have "no idea" how Le died but remain hopeful that the coroner's office will be able to determine a cause of death despite the condition of the remains.

Le's abandoned car had been discovered about three blocks from the hospital, with stains, later determined to be her blood, and her laptop inside. Her remains were found in a brush-covered canyon not far from Hayward, Keener said.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

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