By Eric Kurhi / Oakland Tribune
From: Mercury News
HAYWARD — Police said it was the frantic actions of a young rescue dog in training that led to the body of Michelle Le in rural terrain near the Sunol-Pleasanton border on Saturday.
The year-old yellow Labrador retriever was being handled by Carrie McGonigle, the mother of Amber Dubois, a 14-year-old straight-A student who was stabbed to death in Escondido two years ago. Her remains weren’t found for a year, and McGonigle since has formed a group, Team Amber Rescue, to search for missing persons and support their families.
She was at the search site Saturday morning with her dog, Amber, in memory of her daughter.
“Basically, she went to change from the collar to a harness, and the dog knows that’s when we’re going to go to work,” Hayward police Lt. Roger Keener said.
Amber suddenly raced off on her own, going a long distance before returning and jumping on McGonigle, Keener said.
“It hasn’t been trained to do this,” Keener said. “Then it takes off again, and leads her right to Michelle’s remains.”
The badly decomposed body of Le was identified through dental records on Monday.
While the general area had been scoured before by Le family search parties and police, Keener did not know whether cadaver dogs had been used. He said if it was an early search, they may have used search-and-rescue canines, which are trained to detect different scents than cadaver dogs.
He added that while Amber has had about six months of rescue-dog training, she had no lessons in searching for bodies.
“Carrie said that after this, she’s going to train Amber to do both,” Keener said.
McGonigle did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday, but told the San Diego Union-Tribune that, “I believe there must have been a higher power at work. How did she run three or four acres right toward” the remains?
There initially was some confusion over who found the body, possibly because McGonigle quickly backed away from the scene and allowed a Hayward police officer in the same search party to take over, Keener said.
Le’s family requested privacy after learning about the identification, “as we are grieving and preparing a memorial service for her — a proper goodbye.”
Search party members, who have rallied behind the family since shortly after Le went missing May 27, held a late night vigil Monday near the Sunol site where her body was found after hearing the news.
John Hayes said that while many of them long held on to a glimmer of hope that Le still could be alive, they’re glad the family can find closure and vowed to take the cause to the courtroom.
“We’ve been relentless,” said the San Ramon resident on Tuesday. “Now that’s going to carry on over to the trial. We’re going to be relentless about justice.”
Le, 26, disappeared from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward, where she did duties as part of her nursing school curriculum. She was last seen headed to the parking garage, and was reported missing by her instructor when she didn’t return to class.
Le’s one-time friend Giselle Esteban, 27, was arrested at her Union City home on Sept. 7 by Hayward police. Evidence they collected included Le’s DNA on one of Esteban’s shoes, surveillance video from the Kaiser parking garage that places Esteban at the scene before and after Le disappeared, and cell phone analysis that showed both phones followed a similar path the night in question — a path that led to the Sunol and Niles Canyon areas.
Esteban delayed entering a plea at a court hearing Monday in order to finalize legal counsel.
Esteban, who is pregnant, told reporters shortly after Le’s disappearance that she blames her former friend for ruining her relationship with the father of her 5-year-old daughter.
The father has said that Esteban mischaracterized his relationship with Le, whom he called a longtime friend.
Esteban’s next court appearance is set for Sept. 28 at which time she could enter a plea.
Read more: Mercury News