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Yale mourns the loss of a gifted student and compassionate friend

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2010 - Winter


Annie Le was a talented scientist, a caring friend, a helpful lab mate, and a fashionista whose click-clacking high heels signaled her arrival from afar. Her friends, classmates, and teachers remembered what her advisor called “Annie-isms”—her fondness for fried chicken, her perfectly accessorized wardrobe, and her insistence on wearing a skirt even while doing messy lab experiments.

Scores of people touched by her full and all-too-short life gathered in Battell Chapel in October to honor Le, a 24-year-old graduate student in pharmacology who had been killed in a Yale laboratory a month earlier. A laboratory technician had been charged with murder in the case and is being held on $3 million bail.

President Richard C. Levin described Le as “so emblematic of the kind of student Yale wishes to educate and send out into the world, a model student for the Yale of the 21st century.” The child of Vietnamese immigrants, Le grew up in central California, was a standout high school student who garnered $160,000 in college scholarships, won a prestigious NIH fellowship while an undergraduate at the University of Rochester, and at Yale won a fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Working in the laboratory of Anton M. Bennett, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology, Le studied how some fatty acids regulate an enzyme believed to be involved in cellular metabolism. She wanted to find out whether the enzyme is linked to metabolic disease. “She was happy with her life, happy with herself, and happy with her dreams,” Bennett said. “That’s why Annie was always smiling.” Her work contributed to a research paper that will soon be published in the Journal of Clinical of Investigation and will be dedicated to her memory.

“Annie valued science precisely because she saw in it a moral purpose,” said Jon Butler, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “She hoped that her research would stem the onset of metabolic disease.”

Friends also recalled Le’s lighter side. “I don’t know anyone else who could wear five-inch heels while doing laborious mouse surgery, eat fried chicken and not gain an ounce, and use smiley faces in her presentations and not lose the respect of her audience,” said fellow graduate student Tara Bancroft.

Le’s roommate reported her missing on the night of September 8. Five days later, the day she was to have been married to her college sweetheart, police found her body in a crawl space behind a wall in the basement of a building at 10 Amistad Street, where Le had gone to check on her research mice. Police arrested Raymond Clark III, a lab technician who worked in the building, on September 17. Clark had not entered a plea at press time.