September 20, 2011 (Escondido) – “It’s a very empty, lonely scared feeling to not know where your kid is,” Carrie McGonigle, mother of slain Escondido teen Amber Dubois, told media in February whenshe announced plans to train a yellow labrador retriever puppy and organize “Team Amber” to assist in searches for other missing children.
In memory of her daughter, who was kidnapped and murdered two years ago but not found for a full year, McGonigle named the dog Amber. On Saturday, Amber led authorities to the remains of missing San Diego student Michelle Le, bringing closure to the family of another missing teen.
McGonigle had taken the year-old dog to Hayward, California to help comb a canyon area in search of Le, a nursing student who grew up in Rancho Penasquitos and graduated from of Mt. Carmel High School. She disappeared after leaving Kaiser Permanent in Hayward three months ago.
According to Lt. Roger Keener with the Hayward Police, McGonigle was changing the dog from a collar to a harness when Amber suddenly raced off on her own, traveling a long distance before returning and jumping on McGonigle, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
McGonigle told the San Diego Union-Tribune that after running hundreds of yards down a hill, the dog suddenly stopped and started barking. When McGonigle caught up, she saw the remains later identified as Michelle Le. The body had been missed by police who had previously searched the hilly area.
Amazingly, she said, “Amber has never been trained for this kind of work.” The dog was trained to follow the scent in a search for a living person, not a cadaver, yet ran several acres straight toward where Le’s remains were located. “I believe there must have been a higher power at work,” McGonigle concluded.
The body was identified through dental remains. Although cause of death has not yet been confirmed, authorities on September 7 arrested Giselle Esteban, 27, a former friend who had stated she “hated” Le but did not kill her. Hayward Police found a shoe with Le’s blood at Esteban’ residence and traced cell phone calls to determine that the two women traveled similar paths the night Le disappeared.
Le’s family, on a website devoted to the search, thanked McGonigle and the other searchers but asked for privacy during the time of grief.