The killing of a Yale graduate student whose body was found stuffed inside a wall five days after she vanished was a targeted act, police have said, seeking to calm fears that a random killer is still at large.
Annie Le vanished from a heavily secured lab building accessible only to university employees.
As students and staff last night held a candlelit vigil, police said the 24-year-old's death 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 police spokesman Joe Avery.
He added that no one else was in danger, but would not provide details other than to say police believe no other students were involved. He also denied broadcast reports that police had a suspect in custody.
Yale officials said the building where Le worked would reopen under increased security. However, 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.”
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 was 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 the chemistry student.
Police found Le’s body about 5pm 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 to marry on Long Island.
Police have said Mr 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.
Ms 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.
Ms Le’s office was on the third floor of the five-story building, where authorities found her wallet, keys, money and purse.
Campus officials have said that the security network recorded her entering the building by swiping her ID card at about 10am on Tuesday. She was never seen leaving.
In the Sierra foothills community east of Sacramento where Ms Le went to high school, she was seen as a high achiever who knew early on that she wanted a career in medicine.
In a Union Mine High School yearbook from 2003, she 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.