EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. - Slain Yale doctoral student Annie Le, laid to rest Saturday in a small town near where she grew up, was remembered for her character.
"It was the silly girl that she was that made us all love her," said her cousin Dan Nguyen at her funeral at Holy Trinity Catholic Church here, about 30 miles east of Sacramento. It was "her silliness and friendliness, and not her academic achievement, that made the most impression on us."
Nearly 600 people attended the funeral, which was followed by a private burial service.
Le's mother Vivian Van Le, speaking in Vietnamese, recited a poem she wrote upon hearing of her daughter's death.
"Farewell, my child . . . the most wonderful gift that God had sent to me," Le's mother said, going on to describe her daughter's death as being "like a knife searing through my soul."
During the eulogy, Le also addressed her daughter's fiance, Huntington resident Jonathan Widawsky, who sat in the third row but did not speak.
"Jon, even now Annie's gone, but I still have you and love you very much," she said. "You are my son."
Msgr. James Kidder, who was Le's pastor until she graduated from Union Mine High School near Placerville and left for college, called her "the type of rare person you will meet . . . who is naturally good."
"Her life was so busy, yet always having time for others," Kidder said.
Sept. 8, five days before her planned wedding, Le went missing. The 24-year-old had last been seen in a Yale University building where she did research
On the day she was to be married, Le's body was found behind a basement wall in the research facility. She died of "traumatic asphyxiation" caused by "neck compression," authorities said.
Days later Raymond J. Clark III, 24, was arrested and charged with the murder. Clark was a research technician in the building and knew Le from work. Investigators said it was a case of workplace violence.
A DNA sample from Clark matches one taken at the crime scene, authorities say. Sources said he returned to the lab to clean up evidence in the days after he choked Le. Clark, who is being held with bond set at $3 million, hasn't yet entered a plea. He is due back in court Oct. 6.
Le, who met Widawsky, when they were undergraduates at the University of Rochester, came to Yale in 2007 to pursue a doctorate in pharmacology, the school said. She was studying metabolic disease and was to earn her doctorate in 2013.
Widawsky is now a Columbia University grad student.
"Annie was loved by everyone who knew her and special to all those who came in contact with her. She was a kindhearted human being who was devoted to her family and friends, always sacrificing her time to help others. Her laughter was infectious and her goodness was ingenuous," the family said in the Yale statement.
Yale, which will hold a memorial service for Le at 5 p.m. Oct. 12 in the campus Battell Chapel, has established a scholarship fund in Le's memory. Donations may be sent to the Annie Le Scholarship Fund, Yale Office of Development, P.O. Box 2038, New Haven, Conn., 06521.
With Matthew Chayes