Fears grow for Canadian student who vanished from Los Angeles hotel

Baffled Los Angeles police say Vancouver resident Elisa Lam may have met with foul play when she vanished from her hotel in January

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 11:41am

The young Chinese woman enters the lift of her Los Angeles hotel, before pressing every button. When the doors fail to close, she peers nervously out and down the hallway, before retreating again to hide in a corner of the lift.

The bizarre behaviour, captured on CCTV footage at least two weeks old, represents the last confirmed sighting of 21-year-old Vancouver student Elisa Lam.

Los Angeles police investigating her baffling disappearance fear that Lam may have met with foul play after arriving in Los Angeles on January 26, apparently on a short vacation.

Police said that she intended to travel onwards to Santa Cruz, and that she had been in daily contact with her parents until she vanished on January 31 without checking out of her room at the Cecil Hotel close to the city's notorious skid row.

"This is highly unusual behaviour for her," said Lieutenant Walter Teague of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), referring to Lam's disappearance and failure to contact her parents.

The case attracted a brief flurry of interest when it was first reported in early February, but the emergence of the lift video, released last week by the LAPD's robbery and homicide division, added a disturbing twist that thrust the case back into the spotlight and sparked intense speculation about Lam's fate.

In the 2-1/2-minute video, Lam, wearing shorts and a red hooded sweatshirt, acts in a manner that appears alternately fearful and confused. She hides, goes in and out of the open lift and waves her hands about. At one stage, she appears to be talking and gesturing to a second person, perhaps outside the view of the elevator's camera.

She repeatedly presses the lift's buttons, but the doors do not close.

LAPD investigators staged a press conference with Lam's parents on February 6.

"It's been five days, six days now … but there's been no communication at all and that's worried us and worried the family," said Teague.

He said that Lam, a student at the University of British Columbia, had no history of "any behaviour like this, or any problems".

However, the LAPD also noted in a community alert that Lam "possibly suffers from mild depression".

Lam's Cantonese-speaking parents stood behind Teague during the press conference without speaking, and have not given interviews about their daughter's disappearance.

Teague said the parents were very upset.

Lam's disappearance has prompted a social media campaign to find her, with the "Find Elisa Lam" Facebook page established on February 10. At least one respondent to the page, Los Angeles resident Chris Rehr, suspects he may have spotted Lam, who is described as 1.62 metres tall and weighing 52kg.

Rehr said he believed he saw Lam on February 9 near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, an area near the city's Koreatown district.

"It was early in the afternoon and she was yelling non-stop into the air. I thought at first she might be a religious preacher, but it was pretty clear she was having some kind of mental trouble," Rehr said.

"She was not wearing glasses, but she fits the description."

Rehr said he reported the possible sighting to police, though the LAPD has yet to confirm any sightings of Lam since they were first alerted to the case by Interpol.