Dateline   |  August 09, 2013

Vanished, Part 1

Twenty-six year-old nursing student, Michelle Le, disappears from a San Francisco Bay Area parking garage in broad daylight. A day later her friends start getting strange texts from her phone. Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

skip: thanks, dad. oh, and by the way, what were you and becca doing all day in the pool? the usual. marco polo , noodle races, and then we were gonna make some... oh. oh, no. her. why did it have to happen to our family? why did it have to happen to michelle ? why that day?

>> a young nursing student disappears.

>> she was dressed in white hospital scrubs and something drew her out to her car.

>> the cousin she grew up with, the brother she raised desperate to find her.

>> they were able to do what a lot of other families have never been able to do. text messages , security monitors, surveillance video. signs that michelle was trapped, reaching out for help.

>> one of the things i was so angry about was that nothing made sense.

>> moment by moment "dateline" was there for every turn.

>> this was blood wiped across here. was michelle missing or murdered? was this the key? a threat, a voice seething with hate and rage.

>> you deserve to die for your lies. it's your last and final warning.

>> what happened to michelle ?

>> this case is not going to be over until we get her home.

>> i'm lester holt and this is "dateline." keith morrison with "vanished."

>> they're watching us. they know where we are, how we shop, how we play, what we do, who we love.

>> electronic eyes, the sticky fingerprints follow us almost everywhere and the weird, fractured personal diary they write remains forever. of course, it's meaningless, most of it. meaningless, that is, until it's not. until it's terrifying. the san francisco bay , may 27, 2011 . 6:55 p.m . a young nursing student named michelle le walked across the foot bridge from her training hospital to the parking lot . she is not supposed to be here. for reasons unknown and without permission she has left her post at the hospital. here she walks to a white honda cr-v just out of camera range. then 7:17 p.m . here is michelle 's honda leaving the garage, but why? why then just an hour or two before the end of her shift? good questions. questions about to engulf a whole family.

>> why that day couldn't she have stepped out and gone to another campus that day and avoided this whole thing? why did it have to have to our family? why did it have to happen to michelle ?

>> but it did. much of it recorded, as you will see by those electronic beep, bites and pixels. just enough to make it a truly puzzling mystery, enough to not quite know what happened to michelle le.

>> one of the things i was so angry about was that nothing made sense. nothing made sense.

>> especially this. same night, 8:56 p.m . michelle 's nursing instructor, annoyed, baffled worried by her absence takes a security guard to the parking lot to look for her car. michelle 's car re-enters the garage two floors below. 9:06 p.m . it arrives on the third floor. off-camera, the nursing instructor sees it, waves frantically and the car suddenly stop, backs up and races down the ramp and out of the garage, but why? alarmed, the nursing instructor calls the police and the next morning 400 miles south in san diego michelle 's krystine is awakened by michelle 's boyfriend.

>> hey, just so you know, we don't know where michelle is. have you heard from her? i tried calling her, and i thought, my gosh, what did michelle do this time. she's usually out having fun .

>> she's a fun-loving person, huh?

>> yeah. she was always out with her friends and getting lost sometimes. so we thought -- i -- i honestly didn't think much of it at the time. i read the message and i, like, rolled over back in bed.

>> michelle , after all, could look after herself. had been looking out for krystine for years. she was just 26, but seemed somehow older than that. the eldest of a clan of 15 cousins who grew up together with very little except each other and michelle was smart and studious and attractive, the leader of this very active pack. strong, loving center of the family, a mother figure to her brother michael . michael who was the next person to get the call from the ex-boyfriend. where was michelle ?

>> i said, yeah, yeah. ex-boyfriend, just trying to get a hold of michelle so i didn't pay it any mind, but just in case, i wanted to see if she was okay, so i checked out her facebook and she had plans to go to tahoe with some friends and i just sent her friends messages to make sure she was okay.

>> michael went to work and didn't think much more about it and then he got another call. this time it was that nursing instructor.

>> she was trying to be composed and she told the story of how she went out to the garage looking for michelle and she said she saw what matched the car's description taking off and it wasn't a game anymore. it wasn't something you could excuse.

>> then krystine was calling michelle 's cell phone .

>> she wouldn't pick up and that's where i had a feeling where i thought something might be wrong after she didn't pick up a few times.

>> at 9:30 a.m ., 12 hours after michelle was reported missing, police found her car. it was parked outside this apartment building just a few blocks from the hospital where michelle was last seen. odd. hayward police inspector frazier richey was called.

>> it was locked and that's why we thought michelle was possibly around here, but we had no clue where to start looking.

>> what they could see through the tinted windows looked fine as if michelle had probably left the car here herself. a flurry of worried phone calls went back and forth among michelle 's friends and family. what should they do?

>> it was chaotic, but we weren't thinking the worst at the time.

>> still in san diego , krystine along with her aunts, uncles, cousins began packing for the eight-hour drive north to san francisco 's bay. brother michael was attending college at uc berkeley and she rushed over to nearby hayward to join michelle 's friends who were handing outposters outside the parking garage . had anybody seen her?

>> we all just wanted to find her. we didn't think anything bad happened to her. where was she? they hammered her iphone with more than 100 calls and texts and heard nothing. then 12:45 p.m ., 15 hours after michelle was last seen, finally a text from her home. i'm not missing, it read. my phone has been acting crazy . it deleted everything. all these texts have killed my battery. michelle sent a flurry of reassuring texts to friends and family, i'm fine. just taking it easy. so that ex-boyfriend texted her back. his phone number she knew almost as well as her own. the response from michelle ? who is this? uh-oh.

>> when wey come back, did michelle really send that text? if not, then could she have been kidnapped? police thought maybe so or maybe she just left.

>> i had asked is it possible she could just be out there all stressed out? they said yes, it's possible.

>> but soon police questions about michelle 's friends would lead them closer than they knew to the key to the case when "vanished" continues. hey, our