HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) — Officials have determined that badly decomposed human remains discovered over the weekend in a California canyon are those of Michelle Le, the missing nursing student who disappeared in May while taking a school break.
Hayward police on Monday said tests by the Alameda County coroner on the remains confirmed they were those of the 26-year-old Le. Police said the coroner has not yet determined Le's cause or manner of death, and declined to release any further information.
Police suspect Le's former friend Giselle Esteban, 27, 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. She has not yet entered a plea.
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.
In a statement, Le family spokeswoman Krystine Dinh acknowledged receiving the news and thanked police and others who helped search for Michelle.
"Tonight, our family has been notified that this weekend, we have found Michelle," Dinh said in an e-mail. "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 spokeswoman Elizabeth Valente has described the young woman as "a ray of sunshine" with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for nursing. She was well-liked on campus, Valente, said.
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 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.
Since Le's disappearance, relatives, law enforcement agencies and volunteers focused their searches in the craggy terrain between the cities of Pleasanton and Sunol.
Police Lt. Roger Keener said cell phone forensics helped investigators target the Niles and Sunol Canyon areas, but difficulties in traversing the thick brush had forced search teams to return to the area more than a dozen times.