Body found in search for missing nursing student

September 18, 2011 - 4:05 PM
Body Found

An Alameda County Sheriffs' Coroner vehicle enters a dirt road headed to a crime scene near Pleasanton Sunol Road at Verona Road where a body was found in Pleasanton, Calif., on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011. Authorities are trying to determine if it may be the body of missing nursing student Michelle Le, who disappeared on May 27. A former friend, Giselle Esteban, 27, was arrested Sept. 7 on suspicion of murder. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Anda Chu)

SUNOL, Calif. (AP) — Relatives of a missing California nursing student said Sunday the family was grateful that police and volunteer searchers had located a body but could not comment on whether the remains were that of the 26-year-old woman who disappeared in May.

The team of searchers found the body Saturday off a dirt trail near a remote canyon in Alameda County, the same region where police suspect a former friend dumped the body of Michelle Le, the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/ouPS4e ).

The remains were so badly decomposed that investigators were not immediately able to determine if they were those of a male or female.

Le, 26, disappeared on May 27 when she took a break from her nursing classes at a Hayward hospital. Giselle Esteban was arrested earlier this month and has been charged with murder.

"We are focused on finding Michelle and ensuring that justice is served," said a statement issued by family spokeswoman Krystine Dinh. "With a suspect in custody, the Hayward PD will continue to work with us to locate Michelle and to bring her home so that we may have a proper memorial for her and bring closure to our family."

Police believe Esteban, a former friend of Le's from high school in San Diego, attacked Le in a Hayward hospital parking garage more than three months ago.

Saturday's search was the eighth that relatives have organized, and the family plans to continue conducting search parties until Le is found, the statement said.

Le's family has gotten assistance from the KlaasKids Foundation and Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was abducted and murdered by Richard Allen Davis in 1993.

Le was last seen May 27 at the hospital where she was doing a clinical rotation. She had told colleagues she was going to her car. She never returned and her locked Honda SUV was later found a half-mile away.

Esteban, 27, is due back in court Monday after a judge postponed a plea hearing so she could get an attorney. She was being held without bail.

Esteban told KGO-TV in June that she hated Le because Le was friends with the father of Esteban's 5-year-old daughter. But Esteban denied having anything to do with Le's disappearance.

Hayward police Inspector Fraser Ritchie wrote in an affidavit released earlier this month that video surveillance footage shows Esteban at the scene before and after Le's disappearance.

Police said they found traces of Le's blood inside her SUV and physical evidence that Esteban had also been inside the vehicle, as well as Le's DNA on one of Esteban's shoes.

Cell phone records also show that both women's phones had "traveled on a similar path" from the hospital to other locations in Alameda County immediately after Le disappeared, the affidavit said.