OAKLAND, Calif. -- Slain nursing student Michelle Le was remembered tonight as an ambitious and organized, yet joyful and thoughtful young woman who wanted to dedicate her life to taking care of others.
At a vigil attended by about 150 people at Samuel Merritt University, where she was in an intensive one-year nursing program, Le's cousin, Krystine Dinh, said Le "was my best friend and my role model."
Dinh said Le, 26, who disappeared from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Hayward on May 27 and whose body was found on Sept. 17, "was preparing for a selfless life as a nurse, like her mother."
But Dinh said that although Le was ambitious, she also had a playful side and enjoyed life to the fullest.
"I admired her ability to be joyful," Dinh said.
Laurie Rosa, an assistant professor at Samuel Merritt, said, "Michelle loved caring for moms and babies" when Le did a rotation working at a hospital maternity ward.
"Michelle loved caring for patients," Rosa said.
Le "was a shining light to us," she added.
Rosa recalled that Le struggled to balance her studies in the intensive nursing program with her work as an accountant.
Samuel Merritt President Sharon Diaz had that difficulty in mind when she announced that the university will endow a $25,000 annual scholarship in Le's name to help students pay their bills while they participate in the nursing program.
Diaz said Le's dream to be a nurse like her mother "was denied to her."
But she told those at the vigil, "Remember Michelle. Remember her dream."
Giselle Esteban, a 27-year-old Union City woman who went to high school with Le in San Diego, was arrested on Sept. 7 and charged with murdering Le, even though Le's body hadn't yet been found.
Authorities said footage from security cameras at the parking structure at Kaiser Permanente in Hayward, where Le was doing a rotation, showed that Esteban was present around the time of Le's disappearance and evidence found inside Le's car indicated that Esteban had been in the vehicle.
In addition, DNA evidence and cellphone records tied Esteban to Le's death, authorities said.
Le's body was found in an unincorporated area of Alameda County between Pleasanton and Sunol on Sept. 17 and was identified on Sept. 19.
Esteban is scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward on Wednesday morning to finalize her legal representation and possibly enter a plea.
Authorities haven't determined a motive for Le's death but Esteban told KGO-TV that they had a falling out over Esteban's former boyfriend. However, Esteban denied killing Le.
Alyssa Sarmineto, who was in the same sorority with Le at San Francisco State University, recalled that Le "was the most organized person we met" so the sorority made her its treasurer and gave her the nickname "P's and Q's."
Sarmiento said, "She was an inspiration to all of us and she will be missed."
Dinh, who is 23, expressed sorrow that Le won't be around to share important milestones in her life as she grows older.
Referring to Le's disappearance and death, Dinh said, "The pain will always sit like a rock in my stomach."
But in a possible reference to Esteban, Dinh said the lesson she learned from Le is, "You have to move forward with grace and you have to forgive. You can't fight ugliness with ugliness."