HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) — Officials determined that badly decomposed human remains discovered over the weekend in a California canyon were those of Michelle Le, a nursing student who disappeared in May.
Police Lt. Roger Keener said Tuesday that Alameda County forensic pathologists will now try to determine the 26-year-old Le's cause of death.
"The greatest impact is that it does provide the family with some level of closure and help them begin to heal and move on," Keener said.
Police suspect Le's former friend Giselle Esteban, 27, of Union City attacked Le in the parking garage of the hospital where she was doing a clinical rotation. Esteban knew Le in high school in San Diego and was arrested earlier this month and charged with murder.
Esteban told KGO-TV in June that she hated Le because Le was friends with Scott Marasigan of Fremont, the father of Esteban's 5-year-old daughter. But she denied having anything to do with Le's disappearance.
On Saturday, police and volunteer searchers discovered the remains off a dirt trail in a rugged San Francisco Bay area canyon. Police said cell phone signals from Le and Esteban had been received from the area.
Keener said the discovery of Le's body was a major development as prosecutors pursue their case against Esteban, who did not enter a plea when she appeared in court again on Monday.
"The prosecution certainly no longer has to prove that a homicide occurred because Michelle has been found," said Keener, who maintained that police believe Esteban acted alone in Le's death. "I think the evidence will bear that out."
Krystine Dinh, Le's cousin and family spokesperson, said in an email Monday that grieving loved ones were preparing "a proper goodbye" for Le. Dinh also thanked police and those who helped search for Le.
"Our family has greatly appreciated, and would be at a loss, without the help of so many people and volunteers," Dinh said. "Please continue praying for and supporting Michelle as our family begins the journey to ensure justice in her honor."
At the time of her May 27 disappearance, Le was working on a bachelor's degree program at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, combining classroom work with clinical training.
Her family said she decided to go into nursing because she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother.
University president Sharon Diaz said in a statement that there is profound sadness on campus over Le's death.
"This kind of senseless violence is difficult to understand," Diaz said. "Michelle had so much to live for and sought only to give to others — her life was so pointlessly taken."
After Le's death, police found her locked Honda SUV a half-mile away from the hospital where she was training.
Cell phone records show that both Le's and Esteban's phones "traveled on a similar path" from the hospital to other locations in Alameda County immediately after Le disappeared, a police inspector wrote in an affidavit.
Difficulties in traversing the thick brush led Le's family and authorities to conduct 15 searches in the area during the past four months.
"It was really tough," Keener said. "It took that long to find Michelle."
On Tuesday, Keener praised Le's family.
"The perseverance and vigilance of Michelle's family was to bring her home," Keener said. "They found an important missing piece of the puzzle."