HAYWARD, Calif -- A three-day search for missing nursing student Michelle Le, who was last seen at the Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hayward last month, will get under way Friday.
Volunteers are being sought for the search, which is being put together by Le's family and the Klaas Kids foundation, a Sausalito-based organization dedicated to stopping crimes against children.
The search will take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., organization founder Marc Klaas said.
Klaas said the goal is to find 26-year-old Le safe and sound, despite the Hayward Police Department's reclassification of Le's case as a homicide last week.
"(Hayward police) don't have a body or some compelling evidence. There's no way on Earth that family will give up on those circumstances," he said.
Le was last seen on May 27 at Kaiser Permanente Hayward Medical Center on Sleepy Hollow Avenue, where she told classmates she was planning to travel to Reno after her rotation at the hospital. Le left during a break and never returned.
Investigators have said they discovered compelling evidence that "points conclusively to homicide."
Hayward police Sgt. Steve Brown said investigators wanted to remain hopeful that Le was alive, but "based on all the evidence, we have the grim possibility that Michelle is dead and we should prepare for the worst."
Although the Le family's relationship with police has been strained, Klaas said it has largely been repaired.
Klaas and Brad Dennis, the KlaasKids Foundation's director of search operations, will be meeting with Hayward police detectives at 5 p.m. today to discuss possible areas to target in the search.
"The biggest thing that we're trying to accomplish is to eliminate areas where she is not," Dennis said.
Klaas identified Niles Canyon as a possible search location, because Hayward police have already looked for Le there. Since the area is so large, it may be worth searching further, he said.
The search might also include the area where her car was found to gather more information and to see if anyone noticed her car, or the garage where she disappeared, Klaas said.
Klaas, who started KlaasKids Foundation in 1994 after his 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and murdered in 1993, said he empathizes with the Le family's distress as police now consider Le's disappearance a homicide.
"It was exactly the same, in my daughter's case - that created incredible tension. You show me her body and I'll buy into what you're saying, but until then..." Klaas said.
Le's family approached Klaas after the reclassification for advice.
"They were in shock. They didn't know what to do, where to go, or how to react to that piece of information," he said. "I kind of worked with them to come up with things, like a prayer vigil for Michelle and flier distribution -- all to show that they have not given up on Michelle and that they were going to be proactive in her recovery."
At this point, it is easy to grow disheartened, Klaas said.
It is important for the Le family "to get up every morning and tell themselves they have to do something to recover Michelle -- not to give up hope," he said.
The family's dedication to finding Le has been remarkable, Klaas said.
"They have absolutely no idea where she is. They are being very proactive. We're here to help," he said.
Those looking to volunteer in the search operation can meet at the command center at 25350 Cypress Ave. in Hayward at 8 a.m. on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and bring photo identification. Individuals are advised to dress appropriately by wearing long pants and sturdy, closed-toe shoes.
The search will require some volunteers to perform searches on foot and others to work in the command center. Donations of bottled water and office supplies are appreciated, he said.
For more information about the search or donating supplies, interested parties can call Tricia Griffith at (801) 560-1933.
Klaas said he hopes the family's commitment to finding Le will bring hundreds of volunteers this weekend.
"If it was their kid, they would want somebody to come out, just as the Les are hoping that someone will. By all working together, maybe we can find her and end this all," he said.