Sunday, September 13, 2009

Annie Le's Wedding Day: Who Could We Help, and How?

Yale pharmacology graduate student Annie Le was supposed to get married today.  Instead, her fiance is in New Haven, trying to help law enforcement officials figure out where she is and what happened to her.  She was last seen outside the Yale medical school on Tuesday.  Her keys, purse and cell phone were all left in her office.  She doesn't have a car.  Friday brought word that a Professor whose class she was to take Tuesday afternoon, and who canceled class abruptly on that day, was being interviewed.  Evidence was removed from the med school building yesterday, and unofficial, unconfirmed reports say that evidence was bloody clothing found in the drop ceiling of the lab in which she worked.  Police say they don't think she ran away.

This has got to be gut-wrenching for her fiance, family and friends.  The twists and turns are coming quickly, but no resolution is in sight.  While everything I've detailed here is true, it's entirely possible some or all of it is irrelevant.  The reports regarding the clothes could be false, or they aren't hers.  The Professor could have gotten the stomach flu.  Clues give hope for figuring this out, but they don't make the waiting much easier.

From a crisis response point of view, this is also incredibly tricky.  It's not that no one needs help, it's that it's not at all clear who we should be supporting or how we would go about doing it.  We're supposed to respond after the event is over.  This one isn't, but it's in a new stage.  We've moved from "she'll turn up" to "something happened to her," but we don't know that for sure and we don't know what it was.  We also don't know if she's alive.  And worse, it could be we will never know.  At what point do we decide that it's time to help out anyway?  Or is this one of those incidents when help will never come, because there will never be a time we can say it's over?

What particularly gives me the creeps, however, is the notion that if, at some point, we decided it was time to try to offer some early crisis intervention to those affected -- and there have to be a lot of them, including everyone who goes to school or works there -- there is a significant possibility we'd be working with the person or persons responsible for her disappearance.  Now, there are times when working with the person responsible for an event is more than appropriate.  I'm thinking, for example, of the person who ran a red light and caused a fatal car accident.  But there, their level of culpability is out in the open.  Here, we'd be working with someone who is simply lying to us.  And the thought that there would be the remotest possibility of learning something during the course of the intervention that the police did not already know is horrifying.  We promise confidentiality, but privilege has not been established.  I don't want to be in that position.

All this, I suppose, is why you wait until the event is over to respond.  It's just much easier to do that when the event has a clear beginning, middle and end.  The current endless middle is hard for us.  It has to be a zillion times harder for Annie Le's friends and family and the Yale community.  I hope they get their resolution soon, and I hope against hope that she comes home safe.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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