Family fights to keep hope alive in search for missing SF State alumna
Suspect Giselle Esteban appeared in Alameda County Superior Court today on the charge of murdering nursing student Michelle Le, but Judge Gary Picetti ordered Esteban to return Sept. 28 to finalize her defense representation.
Esteban was arrested two weeks ago in her Union City home although the body hadn’t been found.
On Sept. 17,, volunteers found a body in Alameda county around but has not been identified as Le’s body because of the advanced decomposition.
Hayward police estimate it could take at least a week before an identity can be placed with the body.
Esteban was arrested as a prime suspect based on forensic evidence and surveillance footage.
Defense attorney Andrea Auer appeared in court on behalf of Esteban, but told Picetti that it has not been determined whether she will represent Esteban definitively.
As the days pass since Michelle Hoang Thi Le’s disappearance from a Hayward hospital, more volunteers from around the Bay Area and other areas increase their efforts to keep Le’s disappearance in media across the country.
Search parties and awareness campaigns continue for Le, an SF state alumna who was studying nursing at Samuel Merritt College at the time of her disappearance. She was last seen around 7 p.m. on May 27 as she left Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center. Photos of Leare posted across the SF State campus.
According to Krystine Dinh, Le’s younger sister, their family’s struggle to maintain active attention on Le’s case is meant to give police a sense of urgency and prioritize their plight.
“We still care and are not just sitting back waiting for the police to do all the work and to tell us what happens next. That is why we are trying to promote awareness of her disappearance so that we can put pressure on the police department to be active in the case,” Dinh said.
Le left the hospital during a break from an evening shift that she was working as part of her nursing training but she never returned.
According to a press release from Hayward police, her car was driven out of the hospital parking structure that night, but was found locked only a few blocks away. Calls to her cell phone went unanswered.
Despite the fact that Hayward Police declared Le’s case a homicide in early June, her family has not lost the hope that there is a possibility of finding her alive.
“We, as a family, were devastated and distraught when we were told to come into the station and they sat us down to tell us that they were going to declare the case a homicide because there was evidence suggesting that she could be dead,” Dinh said. “But we are staying hopeful because there’s the chance that she might not be dead and we are keeping this hope up until we know for sure she is no longer with us.”
According to Dinh, the evidence that contributed to the police decision to rule her disappearance a homicide included blood spatter evidence collected from Le’s car and from the Kaiser hospital parking structure; information collected during interviews, review of video footage from the surrounding hospital area and Le’s cellphone records.
Despite the possibility of Le’s death, volunteers from all over California are contributing to the search efforts.
Mike Wetzler, who coordinates events and fundraising efforts for the Le family, is from Napa and decided to help the family when the story of her disappearance hit local television news stations.
“Yeah, for me location is not an issue because a missing person is simply a missing person and my motto is that we will never stop until she is found,” Wetzler said. “Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something to help.”
Lucia Greenfield is also active in the Find Michelle Campaign and although she never personally knew Le, Greenfield is part of Le’s sorority, SF State’s Beta Phi. Le graduated from the University in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Sciences.
“Even if we weren’t in the same sorority, I would still volunteer if someone went missing because people are people and we as a community must help everyone out,” Greenfield said. “Michelle could be anywhere so it’s important to create awareness everywhere, whether it be Ohio or France because the more we stay on the look out the closer we’ll be in getting her home.”
Both Wetzler and Greenfield were at the Chevy’s restaurant at the Stonestown Galleria August 11 encouraging people to dine and donate to raise funds for the search campaign for the missing nurse.
Many other fundraising events have been scheduled in the Bay Area and according to Wetzler, these efforts will continue until Le is found.
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.