One month ago today, 26-year-old nursing student Michelle Le stepped out to get something from her car and never came back.
Le was last seen about 7 p.m. on May 27 while attending clinical rotations at Kaiser's Hayward Medical Center. She was completing her internship there while enrolled at Samuel Merritt University, where she is scheduled to graduate at the end of the year.
Fellow nursing students said she took a short break to grab something from her car, which was parked in the garage next to the hospital, and she has not been seen since.
Hayward police initially launched a missing person investigation, but reclassified the case a homicide a week later after gathering evidence that points to a homicide, the details of which have not yet been released. Police say they have worked a , interviewing more than 40 people regarding Le's possible whereabouts.
To date, no suspects have been identified, no arrests have been made and no clues to Le’s whereabouts have been found.
Meanwhile, Le's family immediately began efforts to find her. Her relatives soon launched a website, designed fliers and T-shirts, held and purchased billboard space on major highways throughout the Bay Area.
They also offered a reward for information leading to her whereabouts, which currently stands at $65,000.
Here is a timeline of events that have occurred thus far:
- May 27: Michelle Le goes missing from Kaiser’s Hayward Medical Center. Video surveillance from the Kaiser garage shows her car being driven out of the parking structure that night, though it does not clearly show who was driving. Her car was located less than half a mile away in a cul-de-sac near an apartment complex.
- June 1: Police announce that they detained Le's former friend Giselle Esteban, searching her Union City apartment and seizing her cell phone and laptop. She was later released, though . Police still consider her to be a "person of interest" in the case.
- June 6: Hayward Police released a statement saying . Police say they believe Le was killed by someone that she knew, based on forensic evidence collected from her car and from the Kaiser hospital parking structure; information collected during interviews; examination of evidence gathered via search warrants; review of video footage from the garage and other locations; and examination of Le's cell phone records.
- June 10: , combing 35 miles of rural areas from Mission Hills to Niles Canyon for any potential evidence. Police are focusing on the area because Le's iPhone "pinged" within a 10-mile radius of Union City and Fremont following her disappearance.
- June 13: Le's , focusing on the areas near Kaiser Hospital and Ponderosa Court, the residential cul-de-sac where Le's car was later found.
- June 16: Hayward police turned over new video surveillance of the Kaiser garage to the FBI, the details of which have yet to be disclosed.
- June 17: the family organized , with help from 450 volunteers plus the KlaasKids Foundation, Team Amber and the G.I. Joe Search Foundation. Relatives said Hayward police provided the family with specific areas to search.
- June 21: Le's family announced they of the Danville-based The Framé Group, to act as a conduit for information and provide another avenue for anyone with information on Le's case to step forward anonymously.
The family organized another day of volunteer search and rescue efforts on June 25.
About 100 people, many who came prepared with walking sticks, hiking gear and tape around their ankles to keep out bugs, gathered at a local community center on Saturday to help in the search for Le.
The volunteers listened as naval commander Eric Duke, an uncle of Le, gave them instructions for their upcoming search efforts. They would spend the entire day ducking under trees, hiking through tall grass, peering behind bushes and scaling small ravines in the areas near Niles Canyon for clues to her whereabouts.
Le's relatives, many of whom live in the San Diego area and have uprooted their day-to-day lives to try and find her, organized the latest in a series of search and rescue events. A 14-member professional search and rescue team from San Jose helped comb the area on both land and water.
Teams weren't just looking for Michelle, but for the white nurse scrubs and white tennis shoes she was wearing when she was last seen, her iPhone or anything that seemed suspicious — recent digging or a smell of decay, for example.
The searches, based out of a command center at the Chanh Tam Buddhist Temple in Hayward, are intended to eliminate areas for law enforcement to search. Le's family said the chosen areas have been suggested by Hayward police, though they also solicit input from the volunteers themselves.
Michael Le, Michelle's brother, said when she first went missing, the family was dedicated to finding her safe immediately.
Now that it's been a month, "we have to prepare for the worst," he said.
Michael Le thanked the volunteers who have helped his sister's case, saying he looks up to them because if it was the other way around, he's not sure he would be doing what they are.
"We couldn't have done it alone. We're so glad it's touched so many people," he said.
Greg Weber of Danville said he thought about coming to help in the search efforts becaue he has sisters and nieces, but made up his mind after hearing Michael Le interviewed on the radio.
"He said, 'We don't know what to do. This is all new,'" Weber said. "It really hit home."
Weber, who contracted poison oak during last week's search but was glad to come back again, said it's been a meaningful experience to meet like-minded people, all dedicated to the common goal of bringing Michelle home.
"We're able to help cut out sections [for police to search]. We really accomplished a lot," he said.
One man even drove up from San Diego to help in the search efforts on Saturday and the weekend before.
De Le (unrelated to the Le family) has been active in publicizing Le's disappearance in San Diego, passing out fliers and contacting local media. He said he's participated in search and rescue efforts before and first caught up with the family at the vigil they organized weeks ago in San Diego, where Michelle grew up.
The volunteer said he's committed to finding Michelle even though search efforts thus far haven't uncovered much.
"My key thing is to hopefully find her alive," De Le said, referencing the cases of Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Lee Dugard, who were found alive after being kidnapped. "I'm hoping that's the case here."
Michael Le said after Saturday's search that the family might organize smaller weekday searches but won't be holding large-scale weekend searches for at least the next two weeks.
They will continue to pass out fliers, drum up support and do whatever they can to assist in the search for his sister, he said.
"If we let her story drop off, we'd be doing her a disservice," Michael Le said.
Until Le is home, her family and friends say they are not giving up on "Mission: Michelle."