When A Victim Has No Voice

By Danny Domingo

I’ve spent the past hour reading blogs about the shortcomings of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.  In my minimal experience with only one Santa Clara County Sheriff’s investigation I would have to agree that the criticism is warranted.

 

Sierra LaMar

Sierra LaMar

My name is Danny Domingo and I am a retired police veteran of an east bay Police Department.  I have also volunteered with the KlaasKids Organization since 2000.  Currently I am embedded with the search for Sierra Lamar and have volunteered my time in this worthwhile effort for the past two years.  The Sierra Lamar search is the fourth high profile search in which I have been involved since meeting Marc Klaas in 1999.  The Sierra Lamar search is also the ONLY ONE of the four searches in which I’ve been involved where the local law enforcement jurisdiction has refused to assist the civilian search effort.  Instead, Sheriff Smith and her media representatives have stated multiple times, in one way or another that they wish they could discuss the case with the civilian search leaders but they CAN’T.  Allow me to make this point very clear.  The leaders of the search for Sierra Lamar have never asked Sheriff Smith or her representatives to discuss the case with us.  What we have asked for is assistance in identifying viable search areas.

 

In the first days, weeks and months of the search effort we asked Sheriff Smith and her Search and Rescue leaders to share the areas where they’ve searched so that the civilian team could leap frog those areas thereby searching a larger area in a shorter period of time.  The requests led to empty promises of assistance from the Sheriff.  Finally, in October 2013, nineteen months after Sierra Lamar disappeared; civilian search leaders finally received a map outlining search areas covered by county Search & Rescue teams.  Nineteen months during which body decomposition, animal destruction and weather conditions have taken its toll on any evidence which might have been recovered.

 

Xiana Fairchild

Xiana Fairchild

In my personal estimation, Sheriff Smith has hampered the search effort for Sierra Lamar.  A couple of examples if I may; 1) for several months in the beginning of the search Sheriff Smith refused to disclose that all of the clothing connected with Sierra Lamar had been recovered.  Hence, civilian search teams spent countless hours searching for, logging and documenting an exorbitant amount of female clothing found during searches.  All of this documentation was then turned over to the Sheriff’s Office.  Hundreds of hours could have been saved by a simple statement by the Sheriff’s Office saying, “We are not looking for any outstanding clothing.”  Yet, Sheriff Smith forced her investigators to remain mum about any information at all.  2) The civilian search leaders have asked the Sheriff Investigators to assist the civilian search effort by suggesting areas in which the suspect and his friends might have frequented so that searches could be conducted in those areas.  These requests have been met with no response by the Sheriff or her investigators.  3) There are rumors of the existence of a video surveillance photograph taken of the suspect showing his clothing in a particular state of disarray taken on the date of Sierra’s disappearance and the existence of medical records indicating the suspect was treated for a particular condition days after the disappearance of Sierra Lamar.  A simple confirmation or denial of these two rumors could do a lot to steer this search in a particular direction.  Once again, the requests were met with no response.  Having been an investigator for 16 of the 25 years I served in law enforcement, I fail to see how assistance in any of the above would jeopardize this case.

 

Murder Victim Michelle Le

Murder Victim Michelle Le

I have been researching missing person cases since the disappearance of my own niece, Xiana Fairchild in December 1999.  I have documented numerous cases in which missing persons have been located by civilian search teams.  In that same research I’ve yet to find a single case in which prosecution was compromised by the acts of a civilian search team member.  Conversely, I have a long list of cases in which SAR team members missed a body only to have the body discovered by a civilian or a civilian search team member at a later date.  The most recent example of this is the case of Michelle Le who was discovered by a KlaasKids search team in an area that had been searched by SAR teams up to three previous times.

 

The case against Antolin Garcia has all the appearances of being a very difficult case to win.  It is not a secret that juries find it difficult to convict the defendant in a capital case in which there is no body.  Is there any question in anyone’s mind that the best chances of finding a body now rests with the civilian search team?  Why then does Sheriff Smith and her investigators, to this very day, still refuse to assist the civilian search effort.

 

If Sheriff Smith or her investigators had a loved one missing they would want as many boots on the ground as possible as quickly as possible.  Perhaps the rules are different when the missing is not one of their own.

 

I don’t even live in Santa Clara County but I will be making a donation to the campaign of anybody running against Sheriff Laurie Smith.  It is time for a change in philosophy.

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

The Michelle Le Murder Trial: Justice Delayed

The Michelle Le murder trial jury has been deliberating for a week. They must decide if Michelle’s killer Giselle Esteban is guilty of first degree murder or the lesser crime of manslaughter. The prosecution presented compelling evidence that the killer believed that Michelle was responsible for everything that was wrong with her life, planned Michelle’s murder and killed her in cold blood on the evening of May 17, 2011. The defense countered that Giselle Esteban snapped in a moment of passion, and that the result was Michelle’s untimely death.

 

I attended many trial sessions in support of Michelle’s friends and family. The body of evidence was overwhelming. There were hundreds of pages of text message transcripts, surveillance video and photo images, cell phone tower analysis, physical evidence, DNA evidence, and interview transcripts. In total they painted a chilling image of an obsessive and demanding young woman who had completely alienated family and friends. She had lost custody of her own daughter and was only able to visit through supervised visitations. A restraining order prohibited her from contact with the father of her child.

 

The defense dismissed the killer’s slanderous and unfounded accusations leading up to Michelle’s death. Instead they attempted to portray the killer as a loving mother whose family was torn asunder by promiscuity and the deceit of others. It was character assassination as defense. Michelle is dead, so she could not refute the charges. Her family, aghast and appalled by the litany of lies spewing forth from the defense could only sit stoically and absorb the psychological punches until the jury returned with the only conceivable verdict.

 

It has been a week. Michelle’s family, who has displayed such grace and dignity throughout sits twisting in the wind as the jury deliberates. They wonder what is taking so long. Was the jury attending the same trial and listening to the same body of evidence? If they base their decision upon the evidence presented in court can they come to any conclusion but the obvious?

 

I read the transcript of the initial interview between Hayward Police Inspector Fraser Ritchie and the suspect. It was conducted about 30-hours after Michelle disappeared. The suspect fingers herself as the last person to see Michelle. She says that it was a coincidence. Although she recounts distant events in detail, she doesn’t remember if she approached Michelle, if they spoke, if they argued, or if she entered Michelle’s car. The transcript presents a chilling window into the mind of a killer, as does the audio recording of the interview which includes the inappropriate and chilling laughter of a remorseless killer.

 

I don’t know what the jury is going to do, but at this point I am very concerned. I would prefer to see a hung jury rather than a lesser conviction. We all know that Giselle Esteban killed Michelle Le. It was thought out, telegraphed via text message over time, and executed in cold blood. The evidence is overwhelming. Anything less than a verdict of murder in the first degree will constitute a travesty of justice.

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.

hat-and-michelle

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.

Michelle Le Murder Trial: Nowhere to Hide

Another juror has been dismissed in the Michelle Le murder trial. There are now six men and six women sitting in judgment of murder suspect Giselle Esteban. There are also two alternate jurors just in case. Eight times a day, at the beginning of the session, during breaks and at the end of the day, the defendant stands up and faces the jury as they pass within inches of her every time that they enter and leave the courtroom.

 

In the beginning some of the jurors glanced in her direction. In a few cases they would make eye contact with the defendant or even nod in her direction. However, as the evidence mounts against her, I detect a perceptible change in jury demeanor. Now they avoid the defendants gaze as they grimly pursue the task of passing judgment. I understand their hesitance. After all, who wants to stare into the vacant eyes of an empty soul?

 

All four of the witnesses who testified today are employees of the Hayward Police Department. Another Inspector, a crime analyst, and a crime scene evidence collection expert all testified to the methodology behind the evidence, the chain of custody, and the linkage between individual elements. By the time they were done we knew where and when Michelle died, whose vehicle was used to dispose of her body, and the route that was travelled by that vehicle. We knew that the defendant was obsessive and jealous beyond reason. As the details of an ill-conceived murder plot were laid out for all to see, we finally understood that as surely as the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, that time was rapidly running out for Michelle Le.

 

As the evidence mounts against her Giselle Esteban’s emotional state in the months leading up to Michelle’s murder is becoming clear. She believed that everything wrong with her life could be attributed to Michelle. If Michelle was out of the picture then Scott (Marasigan) would love her, they would be a family and raise their daughter together, they would vacation in Cancun, and drape tinsel on their Christmas tree every year.

 

The only problem with that fantasy scenario is that Giselle Esteban is obsessive beyond reason. She was/is a stalker whose mind was muddled by dark visions that had no basis in reality. We know this because her trail of breadcrumbs is documented in photographs, text messages, video and audio recordings, cell phone records, cell tower analysis, and an inept effort to distort the truth in interviews and commentary.

 

It’s not a coincidence that often times the only person sitting on her side of the courtroom is her father, who sits quietly as the truth about his bad seed is revealed in excruciating detail.

Michelle Le Murder Trial: No Laughing Matter

Witnessing a trial from a courtroom gallery is very different from watching a trial on television or in the movies. There is no DVR, so you don’t get the benefit of playback. You experience moments of numbing boredom, and particularly after lunch it can be a struggle to simply stay awake. It can be difficult to hear questions and answers if you are sitting in the gallery.

 

The prosecutors and the defense attorney are no more than a few yards away, but neither is miked, and they are addressing their attention, commentary and questions toward the witness, jury and judge. Therefore, you don’t see or hear everything. If a tape recording is being played and introduced into evidence, as it was during this afternoon’s session of the Michelle Le murder trial, the judge, jury and witness all read from transcripts, but those of us in the gallery only hear the white noise of a cheap audio recording interspersed with semi-intelligible dialogue. So, any opinions arrived at or judgments made depend upon other types of impressions.

 

I arrived in court late today, during the testimony of Lead Investigator, Hayward PD Inspector Fraser Ritchie. Prosecutor Butch Ford and Inspector Ritchie were setting the stage for the initial interview the Inspector conducted with defendant Giselle Esteban just before midnight on May 28, 2011 the day after Michelle Le disappeared. After transcripts were distributed Mr. Ford pushed the play button.

 

Due to the challenging acoustics of the courtroom the words on the recording were largely garbled. However, the tone of the conversation chimed through as clear as a bell. Ms. Esteban was conversational and nonchalant in her responses to Inspector Ritchie’s questions. Her voice was atonal, flat and emotionless: broken by occasional bursts of inappropriate laughter.

 

Taken out of context Giselle Esteban’s laughter is simply an unmelodious expression of mirth. However, in the context of a murder trial in which both sides acknowledge that the defendant killed Michelle Le, her laughter is a chilling indictment of an empty soul: void of empathy, sorrow, or remorse. Her evil cackle provides a rare window into the festering cesspool of lies, resentment and pure evil that is the mind of Giselle Esteban.

 

Amazingly, she not only placed herself at the scene of the crime on the evening that Michelle disappeared, she admitted that the two of them had a conversation, making her the last person known to see Michelle alive. Although she is not a card carrying member of Kaiser, she supposedly went to the hospital to inquire about pre-natal care. That doesn’t even make sense.

 

As the tape played, the defendant sat at the defense table staring straight ahead. This woman must have ice water coursing through her veins. Maybe that’s why they call it cold blooded murder. Occasionally, she would grab a pen and write furiously on the legal pad in front of her. As the damning conversation reverberated through the courtroom I could only wonder what she was writing. When Inspector Ritchie said, “If she’s dead all fingers are pointed in your direction,” did Giselle scribble “Awkward”? After the Inspector told her that other witnesses in the investigation had told police that she and Le had a tumultuous relationship, did Giselle write “Wait until I get my hands on those bastards”!

 

After the tape concluded Inspector Ritchie described the state of Michelle’s car when it was located the day after she disappeared. I have tried not to think about the crime as the trial approached, but it all became too clear to ignore. There was blood everywhere. I believe that Giselle laid in wait for Michelle Le in the Kaiser Hospital parking structure on Friday evening May 27, 2011. At around 7:00 p.m. Michelle visited her car, was attacked from behind, and stabbed to death by Giselle Esteban.

 

I don’t see what’s so God damned funny.

 

 

 

Michelle Le Murder Trial: Courtroom Porn

Murder Victim Michelle Le

It wasn’t about the words or ideas expressed. We are all familiar with batteries, balloons, heat, humidity and lust. It wasn’t even about the emotions expressed as they are universal and common. Instead, it was the impersonal recitation of private expression.

 

Accused killer Giselle Esteban

The prosecutor and defense attorneys use very different interrogation techniques. To date, so much of this trial turns on text message transcripts. More than 300 pages of text messages were downloaded from Scott Marasigan’s iPhone alone.

 

Prosecutor Butch Ford is introducing selected content of these text messages as evidence in the case against defendant Giselle Esteban. Typically, Mr. Ford provides a transcript of the text messages to Mr. Marasigan and other relevant parties including the defense and judge. He then asks the witness to read back various portions of the transcript. As tedious as this process is, it has created a clear roadmap through the venomous mind of the defendant. We know that she despised and obsessed over the victim Michelle Le. We are also learning that her jealous obsession was based in paranoia and not reality. Although the trial has only just begun it is a strategy that makes sense as the case for first degree murder is constructed brick by brick by brick.

 

Scott Marasigan

The defense attorney Andrea Auer has also selected portions of Mr. Marasigan’s text log to prove that her client didn’t commit cold blooded murder, but was instead driven to kill Michelle Le “out of extraordinary provocation and the heat of passion.” Ms. Auer also provided the witness and other relevant parties with a copy of the transcript. But her focus was not about Giselle’s hatred of Michelle Le. Instead she centered her attention on Internet sex.

 

Unless one is producing pornography, the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter, for public consumption, it is usually experienced alone or with a trusted partner. Rarely, is it shared with a room full of people. But that is exactly what happened during the cross examination of Scott Marasigan, the man who completes the triangle of twisted passion that resulted in the tragic death of Michelle Le.

 

The youthful passion that drives the world can manifest itself in many ways. It can produce the glory of a Paul McCartney love song, or the tragedy of murder. This trial is about youthful passion run amok. The victim was only 26, the killer is 27, and she met Scott Marasigan when they were both college freshmen.

 

Instead of having Mr. Marasigan read portions of the transcript, the defense attorney chose to have the witness verbally acknowledge the transcript as she read them aloud to the jury. This disconnect between the lustful passions of youth and the words dispassionately reverberating throughout the courtroom was awkward and uncomfortable and seemed to indicate that people separated by distance wanted to have sex with each other. I don’t know what that has to do with the murder of Michelle Le.

 

Michelle Le Murder Trial: Day 1

Accused killer Giselle Esteban

I spent the nineteenth anniversary of Polly’s kidnapping and murder in court. Today began the trial of Michelle Le’s accused killer Giselle Esteban. If opening statements were indicative of how this trial will be handled, and in my experience they usually are, then this is one killer who will never again walk in the grass, smell the roses, or vacation on a beach. Instead, she will rot in a physical hell that matches the sick, twisted fantasies that dominate her life and ruin the lives of those who find themselves drawn into her sphere.

 

The prosecution was unambiguous. Giselle considered her crime for a long time. She planned to kill Michelle, and she telegraphed that information to others.

 

There is no privacy in 21st Century America. The prosecutor can document events leading up to Michelle’s murder. He has phone a variety of phone records including text message logs, which paint a portrait of a monster. There is an extensive record of phone calls that calculate her obsession with a woman who meant Giselle no harm and never threatened her. Cell tower pings track Giselle’s movements as she stalks Michelle, her work place, her friends and associates. There are pictures and video of Giselle invading Michelle’s space in harrowing and intimate ways. There is the trail of breadcrumbs that ultimately led to Michelle’s remains, days after Giselle was charged with her murder. All in all, a portrait of a twisted woman with hate in her heart and vengeance on her brain is painted in bold brushstrokes, so that all can see her madness, her evil intent.

Murder Victim Michelle Le

The defense paints a different picture altogether. But even their pastel portrait is streaked in crimson red: the crimson red of Michelle’s blood. They say that it wasn’t a premeditated crime. That instead it was a crime of passion caused by victim whose loose morals invited scrutiny and ultimately retribution. Despite a potential mountain of evidence the defense claims that Giselle is being portrayed as something that she is not. She is not a monster, instead she is a woman scorned. A woman who watched her family crumble beneath her as a philandering boyfriend betrayed her trust and their family.

Scott Marasigan the Man in the Middle

But opening arguments are but a preview of things to come. Scott Marasigan, the lover scorned for crimes perceived but never committed, was the first witness. He spent the afternoon reading from text message transcripts and Giselle’s jealous obsession and twisted logic manifested itself before our eyes. The transcripts were vile, slanderous, profanity riddled sound bites designed to belittle, injure, and torment. Several times a day Giselle would stab Scott with her invective. Three hundred pages of insults that repeated the same words time and again: whore, slut, bitch.

Brother Michael Le & Cousin Krystine Dinh

It was enough to make seasoned reporters gasp in horror. Unfortunately, it was also enough to make Michelle’s brother Michael and cousin Krystine leave the courtroom shaken and in sobs. And today was only the beginning.

 

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.