Holding Annie in his arms when she was a baby, rocking her to sleep. The time 10-year-old Annie proudly beat him at Scrabble with the word "czar." The way she would roll around on the floor laughing during play.
"Almost two years have passed and the mere mentioning of my niece's name tears me up inside," Bui said in a statement read by another relative Friday during a somber hearing in Superior Court where his niece's killer, Raymond Clark III, was sentenced to 44 years in prison. Clark was an animal lab technician in a Yale University science building where Le did research.
One after another, relatives of Le addressed the court with wrenching declarations about their loss and the senseless crime that brought it about.
Ryan Nguyen, Le's younger cousin who called Le his sister because they grew up in the same home in California, said that two years ago his family was excited about Le's upcoming wedding.
"That would have been a perfect picture of all of us together, sharing and celebrating the happiest moment of my sister's life," Nguyen said in a statement read in court. "But, instead, on the flight home from New Haven, I remember how empty and painful it was for me to know that my sister's coffin would be flying home on that very same day."
Truong Van Bui, another uncle, tearfully talked about his niece's final moments before the she was beaten, strangled and stuffed inside a wall of a Yale University research building in September 2009.
"There have been numerous times I can't close my eyes without thinking about Annie's last thinking and moments," Bui said. "It has been all too painful to imagine the suffering and the desperation of her thoughts and feelings at the moment of her tragedy."
Bui recalled the horrifying phone call he received on Sept. 9, 2009, just days before Annie was to marry her college sweetheart, Jonathan Widawsky, in a wedding on Long Island, N.Y. — saying Annie was missing.
Still, he held on to the belief that she was OK. On Sept. 11, he and his wife traveled from California to New York anyway, determined to believe that the wedding would still take place. Police discovered her body on Sept. 13, the day she planned to get married. A distraught Widawsky attended Friday's hearing but did not speak.
"Annie's death was not just a random act of workplace violence," Bui said. "It was a deliberate choice of an evil act against another human being."
Just how deliberate Clark intended it to be is not known. Clark's father, Raymond Clark Jr., told the court his son still "does not understand how this could have happened."
For his part, Clark offered no explanation Friday, even when given the chance to speak. Yet he appeared to be moved by what he heard at the hearing. Clark would either drop his head, tilt his face to the ceiling with his eyes closed, or turn to watch Le's relatives as they spoke. He dabbed his puffy, red eyes with a crumpled tissue.
At one point, he gave those eyes a more defining wipe as he stood and faced Judge Roland D. Fasano.
"I am truly sorry I took Annie away from her friends, her family and most of all her fiancé," Clark said through tears. "I have always tried to do the right thing and stay out of trouble but I failed. I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie's friends, family and fiancé sat and waited."
He apologized for killing Le, lying about it, and devastating family members on both sides.
"Annie was and will always be a wonderful person, by far a better person than I will ever be in my life."
Moments later, Fasano sentenced Clark to prison for 44 years for a crime the judge called "mind-numbing."