NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Police on Sunday said they found what they believe is the body of a Yale University graduate student and bride-to-be hidden inside the wall of a university building where she was last seen five days before.
New Haven Assistant Police Chief Peter Reichard said officials are presuming the body was that of doctoral student Annie Le, who has been the focus of a massive police search since Tuesday.
"It hasn't been positively identified as of this time," Reichard told reporters Sunday night. "However, we are assuming it is her ... so we are treating it as a homicide."
State police found the body at around 5 p.m. Sunday in an area of the building that houses utility cables that run between floors. The building is in the Ivy League school's medical complex, about a mile from the main campus.
Reichard said police also recovered "a large amount" of physical evidence, but he would not discuss what that included.
Yale President Richard Levin offered support to Le's family and her fiance, Columbia University graduate student Jonathan Widawsky. The couple was to marry Sunday in Syosset, N.Y., on Long Island's north shore.
"The family and fiance and friends now must suffer the additional ordeal of waiting for the body to be positively identified," Levin said. "I met earlier this evening with Annie's family, with her fiance and his family and I conveyed to them all the deeply felt support of the entire university community."
Police on Sunday would not say if they have any suspects. They previously have said Widawsky is not a suspect and is assisting with the investigation.
Le, 24, was last seen Tuesday morning in the five-story building that housed the laboratory where she worked. Surveillance video shows her arriving around 10 a.m., but police had been baffled since the investigation began because there was no video of Le leaving, despite some 75 surveillance cameras operating around the complex. Her ID, money, credit cards and purse were found in her office.
More than 100 local, state and federal police had been searching the building for days, using blueprints to uncover any place where evidence or Le's body could be hidden.
Investigators on Saturday said they recovered evidence from the building, but would not confirm media reports that the items included bloody clothing.
On Sunday morning, a state police van drove down a ramp into the basement area of the building where the lab is located. Authorities also sifted through garbage at a Hartford incinerator Sunday, looking through trash that was taken from the building in the days since Le went missing.
Le, a a pharmacology student from Placerville, Calif., wrote a magazine article earlier this year about how to stay safe around the Ivy League campus.
The article, titled "Crime and Safety in New Haven," was published in February in a magazine produced by Yale's medical school. It compares higher instances of robbery in New Haven with cities that house other Ivy League schools and includes an interview with Yale Police Chief James Perrotti, who offers advice such as "pay attention to where you are" and "avoid portraying yourself as a potential victim."
"In short, New Haven is a city and all cities have their perils," Le concludes. "But with a little street smarts, one can avoid becoming yet another statistic."
Le's disappearance weighed heavily on Yale students, who prayed for her safe return Sunday at The University Church on Yale's campus.
"It has been a week that has tested many people in many different ways," the Rev. Ian Buckner Oliver said just before he gave the Sunday morning sermon. "It has brought up a lot of fears for people. It has brought up a lot of worry and concern for her and for all our safety."
The student-dominated congregation offered a moment of silence and prayer, "for Annie, and her family, who have arrived here in New Haven, for her fiance, on this, what would have been their wedding day. Let's lift them up in our prayers," Oliver said.