UPDATED: 2:02 a.m., June 4.
More than 200 people gathered in Hayward Friday night in a show of support for missing nursing student Michelle Le, 26, of San Mateo.
Her brother and cousin spoke to the media and crowd gathered at the spot where Le's car was found after her disappearance last week from the nearby Kaiser hospital.
"I hope she can be found anywhere — safe and alive. Hopefully somewhere close," said Le's cousin Krystine Dinh. “We love her. We know that she’s out there.”
A reward for information leading to Le's return has grown from $20,000 to $45,000 in a matter of three days, thanks to donations from strangers. The family also announced that the FBI is providing support to the Hayward Police Department investigation but cannot intervene unless the investigation crosses state lines.
Community members, friends and family members, some traveling from as far as San Diego, where Le attended high school, gathered at a cul-de-sac on Ponderosa Court off of Oliver Drive, where Le’s locked white Honda SUV was discovered on May 27. Many wore T-shirts with Le’s face, the word “Missing” and the Hayward police department’s phone number (510) 293-5051. Her cousin, brother, father, aunt and friends spoke during the gathering and held a moment of silence. A musician friend of Le’s also performed Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”
(Watch clips of Le's father, Son Le, and her cousin, Krystine Dinh, by clicking on the video thumbnails to the right.)
“When you hear news of a missing person, it’s usually negative,” said Le’s younger brother Michael before the event. “Although we’re teary … we’re here to celebrate our love for Michelle.”
Despite the circumstances for the gathering, friends tried to keep the mood positive.
“We’re here to send out light, and we’re here to send out energy,” said Lauren Funiestas, one of Le’s former sorority sisters from San Francisco State University who helped organize the gathering.
“Michelle’s still alive. We don’t have any news that says she’s not."
Dinh, her cousin, described Le as tough and said she has a brown belt in martial arts.
"She's a fighter, and we have complete faith in her," Dinh said.
A Week and Counting
At about 7 p.m. on May 27, Le stepped out during a break in her duties at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward. Family members said they were told that she went to get something from her car. She never returned.
According to Hayward police, 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. Family members said she didn’t have friends in the neighborhood, as far as they knew.
Friends said Le was planning to drive to Reno with friends that night, after finishing her clinical rotation at the Kaiser facility.
“Our family has been pretty in the dark” about the details of the investigation, Dinh said. She said the family was told they would not receive an update from the police until Monday.
“There’s that state of limbo,” said Le’s uncle Eric Duke after the gathering. “I believe they’re doing the best they can do … but we need more resources,” he added. Through their network, family members were able to reach out to FBI to get their support, Duke said.
The family released a statement Friday acknowledging that time is no longer on their side.
“Through our collaboration with the Hayward Police Department, we know that the six personnel assigned are doing their best with the resources currently dedicated. The reality is that the Department can only devote so many hours per day to the search. As today marks a week since her disappearance, we believe the addition of dedicated FBI personnel, who have extensive experience in missing persons cases, will benefit the search,” the family said.
Hayward police officers were present at Friday’s gathering and spoke to reassure the crowd of their efforts.
“We have teams of investigators working around the clock,” said Officer Mike Coltrell.
Investigators are still working through , according to Hayward police Lt. Roger Keener. One of those leads involves a “person of interest” later identified as a Union City resident who said she “openly hated” her former friend for a high school grudge years ago – but who denied having anything to do with Le’s disappearance. The woman was questioned and released earlier this week, Keener said.
“Until we find Michelle it’s very difficult for us to exclude anything because we don’t know what happened to her,” he told Patch earlier this week.
Le's brother, Michael Le, said Friday night that they aren't paying attention to the comments made by Le's former friend.
“That’s one person saying one bad thing,” Michael Le said. “There are all these people here that love her, and I’d rather focus on all the love.”
'Incomplete Without Her'
Friends shared stories Friday night about Le, who they described as a compassionate and nurturing individual.
Born and raised in San Diego, Le graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in the San Diego community of Rancho Penasquitos. She moved to the Bay Area about eight years ago to attend college at San Francisco State University, family members said. In the time since, she’s lived in Daly City, Oakland and, currently, San Mateo. She recently enrolled in a nursing program at a in San Mateo and was finishing up a clinical rotation at Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center.
“Michelle has really been a big source of strength for me,” her sorority sister Funiestas said. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be in grad school.”
Funiestas said Le let her use her car to get to and from school, and let her live with her rent-free when she was unemployed.
“She really has been a light in our lives. We are incomplete without her,” another friend said. “Whoever has her, please have some compassion … There are people missing her who need her and want her back.”
Le’s family has not given up hope and is asking the public to help find her. The family initially put up a on Tuesday for information leading to her return, and then donations began pouring in.
The public support has been inspirational, Dinh said.
Several Facebook groups have been created by different friends, relatives and even strangers, Dinh said. Through donations, the family has been able to put up billboards statewide. An official website has also been created at www.michellelemissing.com
Jason Manalang, a close friend of Le’s, had a friend print 150 “missing” T-shirts, which he received on Thursday. By time of the gathering Friday night, all had been distributed.
“It’s a walking billboard,” Manalang said.. “It’s amazing how effective it’s been.”
He’s worn his shirt two days in a row “all day, wherever I go,” he said. Strangers took notice and asked for shirts so that they, too, can help increase awareness, he said.
Manalang said he and others are doing anything they can to bring her home safe.
“Whatever it takes to bring you here, Michelle, we will not stop,” Manalang said at the gathering. “Know that we love you and that we’re there with you. You just have to hold on.”
Le’s brother, Michael, was moved by the turnout and support Friday night.
“Honestly, I’ve only known one side of her,” he said. “I see her differently now—she’s more amazing than I thought she was.
“Although we’re all crying, we all know she’s going to come home,” Michael Le said. “This is what we need, not just family and friends, but the community coming together.”
Michelle Le is described as 5 feet 6 inches tall with black hair and brown eyes. The Hayward Police Department has set up a tip line for anyone with information that could help with the case; that number is (510) 293-5051.
San Mateo Patch editor Don Frances contributed to this report.