'Inside job' in Yale killing

2009-09-15 08:31

Connecticut - Clues increasingly pointed to an inside job on Monday in the slaying of a Yale graduate student whose body was found stuffed inside a wall five days after she vanished from a heavily secured lab building accessible only to university employees.

Police on Monday sought to calm fears on the Ivy League campus, saying the death of 24-year-old Annie Le was a targeted act but would not say why anyone would want to kill the young woman just days before she was to be married.

"We're not believing it's a random act," said officer Joe Avery, a police spokesperson. No one else is in danger, he said, though he would not provide details other than to say that police believe no other students were involved. He also denied reports that police had a suspect in custody.

Several news organisations 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.

Yale officials said the building where Le worked would reopen under increased security. Still, some students worried about their safety.

"I'm not walking at nights by myself anymore," said student Natoya Peart, 21, of Jamaica. "It could happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere."

'It's a frightening idea that there's a murderer walking around on campus'

Michael Vishnevetsky, 21, of New York, said he did not feel safe when he made a late trip to his lab on Sunday in a different building. "It felt very different than how I usually felt," he said.

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 17:00 on 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.

The 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.

Extra security

Le was part of a research team headed by her faculty adviser, Anton Bennett. According to its website, the Bennett Laboratory was involved in enzyme research that could have implications in cancer, diabetes and muscular dystrophy. Bennett declined to comment on Monday on the lab or Le's involvement with it.

Le's office was on the third floor of the five-storey building, where authorities found her wallet, keys, money and purse.

Campus officials have said that the security network recorded Le entering the building by swiping her ID card about 10:00 on Tuesday. She was never seen leaving.

Yale closed the building on 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.

Police activity continued at the crime scene early on 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.

When the building reopens, there will be extra security both inside and outside, said Yale Secretary and Vice President Linda Lorimer.

Police are analysing what they call "a large amount" of physical evidence.

A friend said on Monday that Le never showed signs of worry about her own personal safety at work, though she did express concerns about crime in New Haven in an article she wrote in February for the medical school's magazine.

"If she was concerned about (it) she would have said something to someone, and they would have known," Jennifer Simpson told CBS's The Early Show. "And Jon (her fiance) would have known, her family would have known, friends would have known."

Simpson said Le, a pharmacology student from Placerville, California, was friendly to everyone.

"She was a people person," Simpson said. "She loved people. She loved life. We just can't imagine anybody wanting to harm Annie."


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