The search for Michelle Le, a California nursing student who has been missing for 10 days, is now a murder investigation, police said today.
"Compelling evidence" found in the investigation led police to reclassify the case as a homicide, the Hayward, Calif., Police Department said in a statement released this evening.
"We realize this is the worst possible news for Michelle's family and friends, and for everyone involved in looking for her," the statement said. "Despite everyone's hopes, our effort to find Michelle is officially an effort of recovery. Our investigators met with the family this evening to inform them of these latest developments."
Le, 26, vanished on May 27 on her way to the garage at Kaiser Hospital in Hayward in northern California. She is a student at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, where she was pursuing an accelerated bachelor's degree combining academic work with clinical training.
Le's locked Honda was found a few blocks away from the garage early Saturday, May 28. Calls to her cellphone have gone unanswered, and she has made no calls since early May 28.
She had been planning to drive to Reno the night of May 27 to visit friends, according to news reports.
Hayward cops served a warrant over the Memorial Day weekend at the home of the former friend, whose name has not been released, and seized her computer and cellphone.
"We ultimately released her and she remains, as do a couple of others, as a person of interest," Lt. Roger Keener of the Hayward Police Department said last week.
Keener played down possible parallels between Le's disappearance and an unsolved case in Solano County last year, in which the body of nursing student Phuong Le, 24, was found in Napa County 12 days after she disappeared outside a bookstore in Fairfield, Calif.
Fairfield is about a half-hour's drive from Hayward.
He acknowledged that there are a number of similar elements in the two disappearances. Both women drove white Hondas, they had the same last name, similar physical appearance, and both were nursing students.
"We can't discount it in its entirety," Keener said. But he said that after talking to police in Fairfield, where Phuong Le disappeared, investigators felt there was only a "slim chance" the two cases are related.
"You could look at it and go 'Wow," said Sgt. Randy Boggs of Fairfield police. But he added, "It looks like a series of coincidences and nothing more."
In both cases, according to ABC affiliate KGO, the women's personal items were undisturbed. Michelle Le's laptop was not taken, police said.
Her father has traveled from Vietnam to the Bay area and met with police Tuesday along with Le's brother, Michael, and her aunt, who lives in San Diego. Le's mother died about 10 years ago, police said.
The family initially funded a $20,000 reward for information leading to her safe return, which has since grown to $65,000 after Samuel Merritt University and Turner Construction Company pledged a combined $45,000.