Police searching for nursing student see parallels

Police in Northern California are investigating the possibility that a nursing student's disappearance last week is connected to an April 2010 case in which a nursing school graduate's body was found 12 days after she disappeared.

Michelle Le, 26, was last seen Friday evening as she headed to a parking garage at Kaiser Hospital in Hayward during a break from a clinical rotation. She told classmates she planned to drive to Reno, Nev., later that evening to visit friends, but her locked Honda SUV was later found a few blocks away.

Police continued to search for Le on Tuesday. They believe she had her cell phone with her when she disappeared, but calls to the number have gone unanswered. Detectives also were checking several surveillance cameras in the parking structure.

Friends and relatives of Le traveled to Hayward on Monday night to post fliers near the hospital and along the street where her car was found. Her younger brother, Michael Le, spoke briefly with reporters and said multiple relatives had contributed money to fund a $20,000 reward for information leading to her safe return.

"It's really hard to not assume the worst, but we're trying," the 23-year-old Le told KTVU as he fought back tears.

Hayward police Lt. Roger Keener said detectives were looking into a possible connection between Le's disappearance and a similar case in Fairfield, about 55 miles away, that remains unsolved.

Hayward police have reached out to authorities in Fairfield investigating the April 25, 2010, disappearance of nursing school graduate Bichphuong "Phuong" Le, who was 24 at the time and no relation to Michelle Le, Keener said.

"Our initial gut feeling is there is no connection, but there are so many similarities that we would be remiss to close our minds on this," Keener said. He pointed out that the two women have the same last name and both studied nursing.

Phuong Le's body was found in rural Napa County 12 days after she disappeared outside a Fairfield bookstore. Her unlocked car was left in the parking lot.

Fairfield police Sgt. Randy Boggs said investigators have processed more than 100 pieces of evidence and followed up on more than 300 tips related to Phuong Le's death. The case remains an active investigation, though no suspects have been identified.

Michelle Le was about halfway through a 12-month accelerated bachelor's degree program at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, said university spokeswoman Elizabeth Valente. The program combines classroom work with clinical training, which is what Le was doing at the time of her disappearance, Valente said.

Le was well-liked among the school's nearly 1,400 students, Valente said, describing the young woman as "a ray of sunshine" with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for nursing.

Michael Le said his older sister was always the responsible one in the family, particularly since their mother died about 12 years ago.

"She's not a bad person and she didn't deserve to have this happen to her. I just want her home," he said.