Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Annie Le: The Yale Lab Murder

Annie Le

Annie Le
Annie Le
Annie Le was born in San Jose, Calif. in 1985 to parents who'd immigrated from Vietnam. Her aunt and uncle, Robert Linh Nguyen and Ngoc-Tuyet Bui, raised her in the tiny town of Placerville, Calif., some 45 minutes from Sacramento, amid the orchards and vineyards of the Sierra Nevada's foothills. While Annie was with the Nguyens, her parents separated. Her father, Hoang Le, remarried. Her mother, Vivian Van Le, built a chain of nail salons.

Le excelled academically, especially in math and science. Her classmates at Union Mine High School in El Dorado voted her the "Next Einstein" and she graduated in 2003 as valedictorian. She was already pursuing an interest in medicine and using her skills to help others, volunteering in the pathology lab at Placerville's Marshall Medical Center.

Her hard work and the 102 scholarship applications she completed paid off. She received a full scholarship to the University of Rochester in upstate New York. There she studied cellular and developmental biologyand met and fell in love with Jonathan Widawsky. She won a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health, where she still found time to volunteer in a soup kitchen and faithfully attend church.

She enrolled in Yale's pharmacology program in 2007. Widawsky headed to New York to pursue advanced physics at Columbia University. They regularly made the hour-and-a-half trip between the two campuses to see each other, and soon they got engaged.

Le would have earned her Ph.D. in 2013. Under her faculty advisor, Anton Bennett, she was studying how fatty acids regulate an enzyme involved in preventing metabolic disorders and in treating cancer, diabetes and muscular dystrophy.

Ironically, she took time out from her studies to write an article about campus safety, urging her peers to be careful and to keep in mind that Yale was located in a rough urban environment. She was diligent about using the school's safety escorts to get to her car at night.

But she wasn't all seriousness. She was interested in fashionfrom vintage Chanel couture to $2 t-shirts. Her friends recall her as funny and upbeat, always ready for a joke. This petite, seemingly serious girl had an outrageous side: When her academic and extracurricular diligence didn't get her into her top choice for graduate school, she sent the school's dean of admissions a Xeroxed copy of her derriere.

Academically and personally, she was an extraordinary young lady.

And her life was cut short.

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