Michelle Le: Family Statement

Today, over a year since we have found our beautiful Michelle deceased, our family is finally relieved to hear that her killer is convicted of first degree murder.

There are many, many statements that we can make and say. Overall, though, we just want to give a warm and sincere thank you to everyone who has been supporting us through the most difficult year and a half of our lives. We’d like to acknowledge the KlaasKids Foundation, the Hayward Police Department, our legal team DA Butch Ford, Erin Osanna and Tai Nguyen, the Bay Area community, our friends and loved ones, and finally, the jurors, for not only helping us find Michelle but bring justice to her cold, violent and untimely death.

Michelle was a selfless, loving, joyful soul and she is always missed each and every day by her family, friends and all of those who knew her. Though we know we can never physically see, hug or be with Michelle again, we are beyond thankful that our justice system succeeded in giving us a large amount of solace. Grief, though it takes different forms as time goes on, is permanent, but at least the legal portion of the process is now over.

In her memory, our family and loved ones continue her legacy in ways big and small. We plan to stay involved in missing persons cases nationally through the KlaasKids Foundation, scholarships through Samuel Merritt University for aspiring nurses who have financial burden, and finally, but most importantly, keeping those we love as our first priority – always.

For those who wish to continue living Michelle’s legacy, we ask that you please remember those faces of lost loved ones on the news and volunteer in any way you can. Or to simply be grateful for those you love, for we never know when they will be taken from us.

Thank you again.

Sincerely,
The Le Family

Happy Birthday, Michelle

Clinical group photo taken May 26The trial has been draining.

 
I told Marc and Violet I would try to blog every day, but then when it started, I discovered it was much easier to simply leave the courtroom without having to explain or describe the range of emotions that comes with being in the gallery among our family and all of those who love her. Truth be told, the most exhausting parts of the trial are when the evidentiary facts are being excruciatingly repeated in bone dry format – cold and clinical. Or when the defense is painting a suspected murderer to be a saint, and our family has no choice but to listen on to their shameless attempts at garnering sympathy, including their callous and merciless attacks on who we love. They forget, I suppose, that we lost Michelle because she was murdered in cold blood.

 

I suppose they forget that while they are defending a monster who has “future dreams and life goals”, it is because of her that Michelle will never get the chance to live out her future dreams, pursue her life goals, get married, become a mother, spend holidays with her family and laugh with her friends. Her short living years were quickly and brutally ended, but I suppose they forget that.

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But despite the trial unraveling, today is Michelle’s birthday, and those long courtroom days are not my focus. The DNA forensics, bloodwork and details surrounding her murder, both pre-meditated and following the damned act, may have everything to do with Michelle the victim, but there is always Michelle, the person. Beautiful Michelle Thi Le was 26 when she was killed; today, she would have been 28 years old.

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So, today, I will try my hardest to focus on Michelle – the loving, hilarious, carefree, joyful Michelle. The one who kicked ass in board games, who wore big ol’ owl glasses growing up, the one who acted as the Queen when we all played pretend in her backyard playhouse. The one who helped me through my first heartbreak, who taught me how to drive (why anyone thought this was a good idea is still beyond me), who rollerbladed and biked around Mira Mesa when we were all kids, who was a dedicated Beta Phi sorority sister, who saw life through such rose-tinted glasses and always sought the absolute best in people – even if one of those people were to murder her later. Life is painfully ironic at times.

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I miss her so much, it physically hurts today. Most of the time, I still think she will appear around the corner, laughing as she does, making fun of me and all of us because we’re such worrywarts. Being happy go-lucky as usual. Sometimes I really wonder how people grieve and move on. On days like these, it seems almost impossible.

298390_10100635514241173_2856124_n28 years ago today, one of the most amazing, loving, caring, selfless angels was created. I hope she knows that her life and death have inspired so many people in numerous ways. And because of her legacy, her death will never be in vain. Today, though we are without her on this earth, I am envisioning with all my might that she is watching over us as we acknowledge her birthday each in our own ways, being with each of us all, somehow.

I love you and miss you more than anything, Michelle. I know we all do, and that brings some sense of comfort. At least we are not alone, even when the fog of grief is thick. I hope you’re having fun up there, or wherever you are. Happy Birthday, love. Love, love, love you.

The Day is Here – We Love You, Michelle

On May 27, 2011, 26-year-old nursing student Michelle Hoang Thi Le went missing from Hayward, California, just hours before she was going to meet a friend for a weekend trip. Immediately, our family and her friends launched a national search campaign to find her. After 113 exhausting days of searching for her, our amazing volunteers found her on September 17, 2011. Though we didn’t find her alive, like we were vehemently hoping, we had our answer. We had no choice – that answer had to be enough. We laid her to rest and tried with our might to get back to living a different life without her.

It is hard to believe that a year ago today, we found Michelle, after 113 days of searching for her. It’s also hard to believe that the day has come to ensure there is justice for her murder.

The trial is beginning.

I am apprehensive and anxious. And I can’t sleep. The past three weeks have been nerve wracking, to say the least. Every night, my nightmares have revolved around murder, death or being chased by some impending crisis. I’d rather stay awake.

Since she went missing on Friday, May 27, 2011, life took a screeching halt and turned another direction, down a road that we were never prepared to travel. Our search center was our second home; our search teams became our second family.

All that most people see in the news is about her disappearance, the murder, her accused murderer and, now, the trial. But there was a life she had before May 27, 2011 – one full of dancing, playing, laughing, and loving with her friends and her family. Time is slipping by so fast, it seems, and it becomes a challenge to keep that story about the living, breathing Michelle we all know and love. I didn’t want her to become just a memory, a frozen face in pictures. I want to continue telling her story over and over again – about who she was, what food she liked, what she liked to do – everything just to remind myself and others that she existed here, with all of us, before her life was robbed from her.

Our family, her friends – everybody had their own special relationship with her before that day. I can only speak on my own behalf, but I know she spread her light to so many others.

To me, Michelle was a big sister. I looked up to her for as long as I can remember. I miss everything about her.

My favorite memories revolved around Michelle, Michael (her brother), and my brother – all of us within four years of each other in age. Growing up, we would all play “house”, which eventually progressed to video games, Pokémon, card games, board games. You name it, we played it. I remember it was like a kid’s dream come true when Michael and Michelle moved in with our family when she was 14, so the four of us cousins – we all grew up together in a zone that seemed like constant playtime.

We grew older into our teen years. I remember Michelle giving me boy advice in middle school, her tweezing my eyebrows for the first time at twelve, her helping me write my first “crush” letter, burning our sappy love song CDs. My mom even banned us from going into each other’s rooms past 10pm, because we’d be found early in the morning groggy and sleep-deprived from talking until dawn. I remember we even got our first jobs together and scheduled our shifts with each other so we would be able to lounge at La Jolla shores during the day and work at night. I remember choreographing stupid dances to hip hop songs.

We grew up in a huge family with many cousins, most of them boys, so she was my main confidante even into our 20’s. I remember talking about our future weddings and joking about what we would say when we made our maid of honor toasts. I remember talking about me moving back up to the Bay Area so we could hang out here together. I kept my word and I did – only 3 days too late, on May 30, 2011.

She seemed to live as though she knew the secret – that life was short and precious; that relationships mattered most and everything else was just stuff. Most people don’t reach that realization until much later, but Michelle – she always knew. Michelle was joyful, carefree, lighthearted, beautiful inside and out. She laughed easily, joked often, forgave liberally and gave constantly without expecting anything in return. She loved to shop. She was your BEST bargain shopper and had a seriously awesome, fabulous closet. She loved to dance and going out with her friends. She loved to eat, and then judge all restaurants on Yelp. She loved to read. She had 3 tattoos – a compass, a sparrow, and her mom’s signature on her left breast, over her heart. She hated heels and always opted for sandals or boots. She would loan her friends anything they needed or wanted – whether it be a car to get to a job interview or a scarf on a cold day. She gave and gave, and even took her passion for helping and put it toward a career in nursing.

She was in an accelerated nursing program and was only 6 months from graduating from Samuel Merritt University when she was killed. She was only 26 years old.

I remember so much more than words can ever write, than pictures can ever express. I want to capture all of the details in a box, with memories I can pluck out to re-live all the playtimes, shopping dates and conversations we had. But that’s not possible.

Since September 17th 2011, after we found her, we’ve seen grief settle in the veins of each of our lives, spreading its symptoms like a virus. Some of us have lost relationships and friendships after a change of that size and impact. Some of us have grown closer to others who were complete strangers before. Some of us continued to live her legacy because that’s the only way we knew how to cope with our loss – by keeping her name alive. Some of us pretended it never happened, imagining that she’s on vacation or on a very long leave. All of those who loved her – we were all challenged to press ‘reset’ to a new normal.

One of the most important steps of building her legacy and ensuring that her death was not in vain is to make sure her killer is not roaming the streets free with blood on their hands. And we have to take that step – now. Whether or not we want to face the tragedy again, it’s time to. For Michelle.

We cannot thank everyone enough, still, for bringing her home to us. We know that there are many families out there who have missing loved ones, and we were fortunate enough, at least, to be reunited with ours. Please stay with us while we begin the legal process to ensure justice in her name.

She was a granddaughter, a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend, a puppy mom and she is missed everyday.

I love you, Michelle.
We love you, Michelle.

Legacy

Legacy is defined as something transmitted by or received from the past. In my business, which so often deals with the aftermath of loss, legacy is at the vanguard of peoples thoughts. While it might not have been at the forefront of our minds when all was well, it becomes integrally tied into future considerations as we cope with the loss of a loved one. The closer our relationship to the one who has passed, the more we think about their legacy.

 

8-year-old Polly Klaas

When the past arrives suddenly and without invitation defining a legacy is a way to make sense of the senseless, and to give meaning to death. It was thoughts of legacy that helped me ascend from the depths of the abyss after Polly’s tragedy in 1993. She had given beautiful meaning to her life, but after October 1, she only existed in memory and risked being measured as nothing more than a statistical abstraction. I wanted to ensure that her death had meaning; that it was not in vain. To achieve that goal I had to create her legacy.

 

Violet and I thought that the Polly Klaas Foundation would be the instrument of that legacy, but instead we were deceived. Finally, the KlaasKids Foundation, which we founded and controlled, became the vessel upon which her legacy would be conceived and implemented. Stop Crimes Against Children became our mission and Polly was our beacon. Almost 20-years later, we feel a sense of accomplishment and truly believe that Polly’s death represents more than a point on a pie chart.

 

Amber Harris Video In Omaha, Nebraska the parents of twelve-year-old Amber Harris struggled mightily to define the legacy of their slain daughter. On November 29, 2005 Amber got off of the school bus at the wrong stop and was never seen alive again. Her remains were discovered in a shallow grave on May 10, 2006. The man sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and murdering Amber was a registered sex offender who lived near her bus stop. At Amber’s publicly televised memorial her mother announced that her legacy would include school bus rerouting so that proximity to the homes of level 3 registered sex offenders could be avoided. Amber’s parents were successful in that effort.

 

 

 

Megan Kanka & Megan’s Law

So many laws are named after murdered children. When the mother of seven-year-old Megan Kanka quietly and eloquently told reporters that if she had known that a high risk sex offender lived across the street she never would have allowed her daughter to play alone in the front yard, it struck a public nerve. Since 1996, convicted sex offenders in the United States have been required to register with local law enforcement and citizens have been able to access that information to protect their families. Megan’s legacy is Megan’s Law.

 

In 2005, little Jessica Lunsford was sexually abused and murdered by a level 3 sex offender neighbor in rural Florida. Her father Mark began touring State Capitols lobbying for legislation that would classify lewd or lascivious molestation on a person under the age of 12 as a life felony, and a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and lifetime electronic monitoring of adults convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation against a victim less than 12 years old. Jessica’s Law has been enacted in more than 40-states and Jessica Lunsford’s legacy will protect children for decades to come.

 

Legacy can be manifested in many forms. Every time that Michael Le and Krystine Dinh volunteer at the Sierra Search Center they add to their beloved sister and cousin Michelle Le’s legacy. Like so many others who volunteer with the KlaasKids Foundation or the Sierra Search Center, they have found a way to pay their loss forward through legacy building. You can create a movement that will change the world; you can conduct your life in a way that will honor the memory of the child, brother, sister, mother or father who inspires thoughts of legacy; or you can do any and all things in between. One is no more important than the other. What is important is that you honor the memory of loss in a way that soothes your mind and allows you to sleep at night knowing that you have created meaning out of death.

 

While Polly’s years were few, her stature diminutive and her experience was limited, her legacy is as vast as her courage. She inspired us to be bigger, better and more than we otherwise would have been. Through the work of the KlaasKids Foundation her final act has reverberated from the family kitchen table to the president’s cabinet table.

The Glass Half Full and Child Safety

It was expected to be 106 degrees in Patterson, CA yesterday. Packing lightly, I left my apartment to pick up Danielle [LaMar] from the BART station – ready to head down to the inferno we all call central California. Our three hour mini-roadtrip, though hilariously misdirected as we crossed Sacramento County when we were supposed to be going south, was smooth sailing as we caught up on each other’s lives and the latest in both of our family’s cases.

 

My first time doing a KlaasKids Print-a-thon was in Patterson nearly a year ago – the October right after we found Michelle. At that time, I was adjusting to a new normal as I started involving myself with the organization that helped find her. That October, I promised myself, Michelle and KlaasKids that I would be involved with this team for the rest of my life.

 

It was a strong commitment to make, to say the least. Recently, with the trial coming up, I have been reflecting on this new normal that I’ve made and how rapidly and dramatically my lifestyle, hobbies and attitude have changed as a direct result of her death.

 

I have always believed in optimism – making and seeing things better and brighter. Michelle’s murder presented what was possibly the most challenging situation to be optimistic about; it was senseless, cold, brutal violence that gashed into our lives and made us realize how dark and evil human nature really can be. We, as a society, see robberies and crimes every day on the news, hear about weird zombie cannibals on bath salts, maybe mingled briefly with others who have faced tragedies of their own – but until you taste the same sense of bitter anger, confusion, hopelessness and desperation for answers, you feel shielded from all the world’s woes.

 

Then there are families who are brave enough to hear about the world’s woes, and not only acknowledge, but face the fact that they should be preventative about protecting their children. Not by avoiding, but embracing, the conversation about child safety.

 

Danielle, Marc, Violet and I headed to the Patterson festival ready to meet and help those families.

 

Also joining KlaasKids was Tabitha Cardenas, who lost her own 4-year-old son in early 2011 in Patterson. I had a chance to meet Tabitha last October; she is truly a strong woman with a beautiful smile that seems to defy all that happened to her and her young boy.

 

At print-a-thons, there is no darkness. Parents line up with their little ones whose ages range from a couple months old to 18 years old, ready to get them fingerprinted and ID-ed. We meet children and teens of all sorts of personalities – from super hyper to rebellious to autistic or with a mental disability – but all children have the same thing in common. They are all lovely, young and trusting – all with the potential to be lost or kidnapped.

 

These parents wait in line to do one of the best things they could do for their children – prepare to talk to them about child safety. They watch proudly as their child gets fingerprinted and laugh as their sons and daughters smile broadly at our camera. They know that it’s better to be safe than sorry, that the conversation about child safety isn’t something to avoid – that it could be fun and educational.

 

At the end of the day, we fingerprinted over 260 kids and met dozens of families and parents in the sweltering heat of Patterson. Over 260 kids went home with their bio sheets, safety tips and DNA kits. Hopefully, over 260 kids will have the conversation with their parents about child safety and crisis prevention.

 

I left the print-a-thon with a spoonful more optimism.

 

KlaasKids’ print-a-thons have historically helped over a million children. We can only hope our families’ stories helped 260 kids at Patterson; heck, we’d be happy if our families’ stories helped even one more family out there.

 

A year ago, I was in a dark place. Now I find myself in love with our organization, our searches and the volunteer heroes that we get to interact with on a daily basis. If the abductors, kidnappers and murderers expected our families to back down and whimper at our losses, I hope they know that our optimism overpowers whatever power they think they have. That our loved ones’ legacies far outweigh their pitiful, rotten existences.

 

Now that’s looking on the bright side of things.

 

As Danielle and I head back to the East Bay, the temperature drops to a thankfully cooler 88 degrees. The sun is shining brilliantly as we wish those 260 kids the happiest – and safest – futures that they could have.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 20

Milestones

By Krystine Dinh

Sierra’s search center was buzzing.

Today was productive. Though it has almost been a month since Sierra’s disappearance, over 300 volunteers came ready to search. Brian, armed with new search assignments, successfully dispatched 34 search teams to Morgan Hill. It was a cold day, but the sun shined bright. If Sierra’s nearby, I thought, at least it isn’t raining.

Today may have been productive, but not easy. The month milestone is approaching in two days. That means 31 days of unanswered prayers. 31 days without Sierra: A month too long.

We are people of milestones. Together, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, weddings, promotions, graduations. Then there are those who are tied together by milestones of a darker kind – deaths, tragedies, kidnappings, murders, abductions. Dates forever branded in your memory. For Polly’s family:  October 1st. Our family: May 27th. Now, Sierra’s family: March 16th.

At points throughout the day today, I found myself angry – disgusted at the monsters that have imposed those dates upon us. Those days will never just pass by without notice. For Sierra’s family, March 16th will never be just another day.

One reporter said to me, “I heard there were over eight families here who have gone through a similar situation. Can you tell me about them?” I was almost paralyzed by that question – where do I start? We are connected by milestones of tragedy – ragged, pained threads that bind us together. Given the choice, we would have much rather lived in ignorance – our families untouched and our loved ones unharmed. But, here we are.

As the month milestone approaches, I pray for all the strength in the world for Marlene, Steve, Danielle, Rick, Ashley, Connie, Keith, Sierra’s cat Chester, and the rest of her family, so they may find solace in each other on Monday the 16th. I pray for persistence and leadership for the volunteers so they may continue their efforts as time continues. I pray for safety for our search teams.

I pray for Sierra – for her life, her warmth and her safety.  I pray that one day we will celebrate another milestone – the day she returns home to her family.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 6

On the Other Side

 

This routine is familiar. I woke up at 6AM, prepared to make a long drive to a search center that promises an even longer day. Media trucks are parked outside, but our family is not the one they’re looking to hound now. A long line forms outside with volunteers eager to help. Most are not familiar faces, but their presence is calming. The emotions that come with every search are difficult for me to comprehend – filled with anxiety, but unbeatable hope, exhaustion but perseverance. But this time, I’m on the other side. I’m a volunteer – one of the many- simply looking to make even an ounce of difference in the effort to bring Sierra home.
 “Whatever it takes”, I tell myself – the same phrase I repeated in my head over and over when Michelle went missing last May.
 The first time I met Sierra’s family, I was speechless. What is there to say that would suffice? They are facing a nightmare every minute of the day; they wake up each morning wondering where Sierra is and every night hoping Sierra is alive, fed, safe, warm, trying to find her way back. And on top of all of that, they have to use whatever brain power they have left to coordinate a national effort to bring Sierra home.  I came to the LaMars’ searches knowing that it has only been six months since I faced the same emotions, fought with the same demons – hoping that I would be strong enough now to help others be strong.
 And now I remember. I remember that searches give you an acute sense of how many compassionate people exist – their hearts big enough to give love to people they have never met.
 It amazes me every time. Today, more than 650 volunteers of all ages to came to Morgan Hill to help search, flier and promote fundraising efforts. 70 search teams were dispatched, extending the search radius to 20 miles from Sierra’s home.  Teenagers helped make signs and tie bows. Restaurants, grocery stores donated large amounts of food and water. The most passionate volunteers found themselves in significant roles within the Search for Sierra – whether that be making phone calls or braving poison oak as searchers.
 At searches, everyone is working toward something much, much bigger than themselves. And despite the ugliness that surrounds Sierra’s disappearance, searches remind you that there remains so much good in the world.
 I am in awe of the community that is pulling together for Sierra. I hope this sends a loud, clear message to the abductors, sex offenders, human traffickers, perpetrators, kidnappers, murderers and rapists – that they will not and cannot take our loved ones without a fight. That, if you take one of ours, we are not staying silent.
 From what I have learned, Sierra is a fighter – always sticking up for her friends, speaking her mind, relentlessly showing her loved ones that she cares for them. So, I pray that her community continues to show up for her the way she would for all of them. Together, we can and will bring Sierra home – whatever it takes.