EDITOR’S NOTE: Several reader comments have been removed from this story because they were irrelevant to the subject of the article and could be misleading to readers. Jason Manalang is not involved in the criminal case related to Michelle Le’s killing.
As news spread about the disappearance of SF State alumna Michelle Le in May, Jason Manalang could do nothing but be still. Everything in his life was starting to get on track until he saw his former girlfriend’s face all over the TV.
“I was frozen,” Manalang said. “For hours I could do nothing but sit there. I couldn’t accept it.”
Now, three months later, Manalang is working toward graduating in the spring while facing the reality that Le’s not coming back. He admitted he was only able to gather enough strength to attend the first search party.
“I honestly didn’t want to find her body,” Manalang said. “I don’t know what I would’ve felt if I found her, but I owed it to her to support her family.”
Manalang said being at the fundraising events for Le also proved difficult as forcing a smile became the norm while he secretly dealt with the tragedy. Attending the public funeral service for Le was even harder because his normally strong exterior was unable to withstand the emotional breakdown of more than 150 people.
“I’ve been known to be this ‘Super Manalang’ that’s supposed to be strong through anything,” Manalang said. “But seeing her whole family and friends hurting, I couldn’t help but break down.”
Manalang described Le as the prototypical “ride or die chick” with a smile that still burns an image in his head today. He said he and Le had their tough times together, but through it all she was always there by his side. Despite everything that happened between them, they always kept in touch with one another.
“I never stopped loving her even after we broke up,” Manalang said. “She meant so much to me.”
Manalang’s older cousin Danny Manalang said although it wasn’t the end result they were looking for, Jason was always positive throughout the ordeal, delivering wristbands and shirts made with Le’s name, hoping it would bring her home.
“It was a tough situation for anyone to face, but with all things considered he’s handled it well,” Danny Manalang said.
Manalang said Le’s death brought him one of the darkest moments in his life, but he strives on trying to jump over another hurdle.
“I can’t feel sad and I can’t be hurt when I still have my life to live. I have to live it to it’s fullest,” Manalang said. “It’s what Michelle would have wanted.”
Now an avid marathon runner, Manalang uses the loss of not only Michelle, but also his father, to inspire him. Last December he set out a goal to run 12 marathons in a year in honor of his dad who passed away from cancer. Only four marathons away from accomplishing his goal, he is dedicating the last few runs to the memory of Le.
Manalang said his next goal is to help 12 people run half-marathons, and he wants to be right by their sides as they cross the finish line.
Manalang’s older sister Cathy Manalang said he turned his life around when their dad passed away. She said she admires how her brother handled the pressure of becoming the man of the house at a young age.
“I’m always inspired by him,” Cathy Manalang said. “Once he sets his mind on a certain goal he becomes so focused and dedicated to finishing. It becomes hard to match his work ethic.”
Manalang said although it has been a struggle for him to keep up with his six classes, he tallies it up as just another obstacle in his lifelong marathon. In his seventh year in college he keeps his eyes set on the finish line, envisioning himself walking the stage.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” Manalang said. “As the end gets closer I feel I have to push harder.”
Manalang’s fraternity brother and friend Chris Tran knows all too well the struggles Manalang had to face, but proudly explained that Manalang never quit.
“He put everything on his shoulders and he always held his head high,” Tran said.
Manalang said whenever he feels like giving up he always remembers a moment he shared with his dad before he passed away. During their private time his dad squeezed his hand with what little strength he had left and made him make him a promise “to look after our ladies,” meaning his mom, older sister and niece.
“That’s when I knew I had to grow up,” Manalang said. “I needed to get my life together to do good for my family and for myself, but in the end I just hope I made my dad proud.”