Dateline | January 11, 2013
>>> it was april 30 , 2010 , just over a year before the disappearance of michelle le. it was close, perhaps 50 miles away and it was so coincidental. another young nursing student almost the same age, same ethnicity, even the same last name vanished from this shopping mall parking lot . her name, phuong le. police lieutenant greg hurlman got the case, but couldn't find her.
>> several months later we got a call from a neighboring county saying they had a body out in the woods that somewhat matched the sdripgdz of the missing person .
>> it was indeed phuong le, but that was by no means, the end of the investigation.
>> to this day we are trying to identify who, in fact, killed phuong le.
>> so during the memorial day weekend in 2011 when the detective heard about the disappearance of michelle le, he wondered, is this a break in his case?
>> someone that looks almost exactly the same, the same name, almost same circumstances, it's a bizarre coincidence.
>> when they met with detectives for the first time, 48 hours after michelle 's disappearance, they asked the dreadful question. could michelle 's case be connected to the phuong le murder?
>> the community brought that up and thought they might be linked and we went to the hayward police and they said we'll look into it, but we don't think there's any connection.
>> so then there was a wash of relief. the detectives also told the family they'd found michelle 's car, that it was locked, appeared undamaged. to the family, that was good news. it meant to them that michelle must be alive, held somewhere, though during that sunday meeting the police gave the impression they still had no idea what happened to michelle .
>> they asked us all questions about her relationships and her friendships and they told us they were working on it.
>> we kept asking them and probing them for more information, and they said we can't tell you much, we're sorry.
>> so your level of frustration must have been pretty high.
>> it was sky high .
>> the le family had the impression the police weren't taking the case seriously at all.
>> michelle was an adult and they felt if she's an adult and maybe she wasn't a child she wasn't prioritized.
>> what was it like leaving that meeting?
>> it was chaos. it was the number one feeling. we didn't have a place to stay. we were hotel hopping. we were just waiting around most of the time sitting in the hotel. you were blind. you didn't know -- we had no idea where to go, what to do.
>> the family couldn't understand why the police seemed to be moving so slowly. in their minds michelle was being held against her will. the week went by, saturday june 4th , eight days after michelle 's disappearance, her family held this vigil near the place where her car was found.
>> weepted the fbi to get involved and we were just making a lot of noise.
>> quietly attending was scott. the young man the police had questioned a week earlier, giselle esteban's old boyfriend, remember, the father of her child. two days later, sunday june 6th , the family was called back to the police station for an important meeting. the police finally had a chance to search michelle 's car and the status of her case had been changed. t from missing person to homicide and the family felt blind sided.
>> they said, you know, i think you have to get comfortable with the fact that your sister is probably dead. we were horrified.
>> and just like that, the information door closed. the hayward police told the family it was a murder investigation now, so department policy, they could reveal nothing more. and therefore, couldn't or wouldn't tell the family why they thought michelle was dead, but without hearing an explanation or seeing any evidence, how could the family believe the police ? now they simply wouldn't accept what the cop his to say.
>> it was horrible. we were really angry because, okay, you want to make it homicide and you're not going to tell us why. .
>> richey understood the family's anger, but as far as he was concerned he had a murder investigation on his hands and that meant the family had to be kept in the dark .
>> there are certain things we have to keep close to us that we can't put out there because we have to maintain evidence and maintain the custody of certain information and it is of evidentiary value to us that if we don't have the suspect in custody that the only people that know about it is the suspect and us.
>> so in the absence of official information, the le family's youngest members decided the only option was massive publicity and appeal to the public for whatever help they could offer. for that, was there kids and cousins. family elders were deeply reluctant to share their grief with strangers.
>> they didn't want her story out there publicized like we had made it.
>> it's very private. there is such a fine line between how much you give away about your own family's misfortune to -- to -- for the good for michelle . in the asian families when you're younger you're supposed to be -- very respectful of the hierarchy in the family. you're not supposed to boss anybody around, but i was just livid. i was so angry.
>> the elders knew far more about survival than most people ever knew. they were boat people , had been forced to flee vietnam after the war, very nearly perished in their open boat in the south china sea and then they spent months in a refugee camp before being dropped in a land whose language and customs they did not know and yet, before long, they embraced it all. big family celebrations at christmas time and easter and birthdays. they went on all-american vacations like this one to the california coast. that's michelle in the glasses.
>> here we are in santa barbara beach. we're having lots of fun and here's my brother.
>> they succeeded in america by doing what they had since their days of crisis on the south china sea . they stuck together, an epic, very american tale of hope and self-reliance. lessons absorbed by their children.
>> if i was missing and michelle was looking for me she would -- she would, you know, tear up heaven and earth , you know, to find me. and so -- i had to -- i had to fight for her.
>> so it was the new generation, the american-born generation that finally convinced the family it had to go public to put their story out in the press and on social media .
>> until the hayward police department can offer conclusive and definite proof, otherwise we will continue to believe she is alive. michelle is still alive, and needs to be rescued.
>> we will bring you home.
>> two weeks to the day after michelle 's disappearance, the family organized this vigil to make a public case that michelle was not dead, but instead a kidnap victim in urgent need of rescue.
>> we are focusing on what we can do to get her home.
>> i truly believe that she's out there and we'll find her.
>> if michelle was going to be rescued, the family decided, it would be up to them to do it.
>>> but where is michelle and who could have taken her? an outside investigator zeros in.
>> this is someone that knew her. knew she'd be at work.
>> when "vanished" continues. we can