What happened to Elisa Lam? I’d read about her drowning on top of the Cecil Hotel in a water cistern. Some had speculated it was a suicide as a result of drug use. As there had just been a shootout in Orange County earlier in the week, I have to admit, her death slipped out of my mind. It was only after a few friends mentioned it to me that I read more about the suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. The cisterns where she was found weren’t easily accessible, and while they were unlocked, an alarm and a locked door would have to be passed for her to have gone upstairs.

To make the situation even stranger, the last recorded footage of her alive is viewable on YouTube. It’s from an elevator camera and is as inscrutable as the cause of her death. She enters the elevator and presses all the buttons. She peeks closely at what she’s pressed, seems confused why the door isn’t closing. Then she appears to hide alongside of the wall, moves to the corner, then peeks furtively out. She gets back in, pushes all the buttons again, confused as to why it isn’t moving. Her most inexplicable behavior happens when she starts flailing her arms, and it almost looks like she is arguing with someone or signaling something, though her finger gestures also imply an unusual state. One question that kept on coming back to me was, why wasn’t the elevator door closing? Why only after she left did it close?

Some have speculated in an almost Twin Peaksesque twist that her death was caused by the supernatural. Others say this indicates someone who worked at the hotel had to be involved. Honestly, the footage caused me shivers. Part of it was the silence, not knowing what she was doing. Another part of it was realizing these were the last known movements of this girl who was going to get killed shortly afterwards. It also occurred to me that it was possible she was extremely nervous and was hiding from someone. Speculation on the Internet has been rampant, and several Chinese on chinasmack.com (which translates Chinese reactions over the net into English) have suggested it could have been her flirtatiously playing hide-and-seek with a lover, or that she was in fear for her life as she tried to escape. One reaction perfectly captured my own:

“Fuck, I watched it for 10 seconds and was afraid to watch any more. Someone hurry and watch it and then tell me about it.”

Some of the reactions on the American side suggested that Elisa, being from mainland China, could not handle drugs and was overwhelmed by her reaction to psychedelics. For example:

“Nah. I don’t agree. I think that there are very few people born and raised in the PRC (People’s Republic of China) who can handle any sort of psychoactive drug. Jesus H. Christ, introduce a mainlander to some mild marijuana and watch him or her flip like you’ve never seen anyone do on weed. Brainwashing + drugs = bad trip, bro.”

First off, Elisa was Canadian-Chinese, and second, anyone given drugs, regardless of where they’re from, can react weirdly. (I won’t bother to comment on some of the other racist statements.) But was this really a case of drugs gone awry? One of the most chilling statements was actually made by CNN, which had a very detailed report about her death. It really struck a chord and made me think about the state of our world (italics are mine):

“Because it was an international case–and her parents and sister flew to California to find answers–the case may have gotten more attention than most of the several thousand missing person reports made in Los Angeles each year.”

Of course, the lurid details that followed–including her remains getting into the tap water and showers for the hotel guests–almost guaranteed the news a spotlight. Sensationalism sells. But even my own initial reaction to her death had me really thinking about all those others who’d vanished and my general apathy about them.

The Cecil Hotel is located near Skid Row, which is a destitute world of its own, a city full of the homeless. It’s an area you don’t want to go near, especially at night, and has a reputation for drugs, prostitution, and crime. The first time I accidentally wandered into Skid Row while driving around downtown, I was scared for my life and got out of there as quickly as I could. I wondered why Lam chose a hotel in such a sketchy neighborhood. Surely there were cheaper hotels/motels in better areas. A quick glance at the Cecil Hotel on Yelp (which is at two stars) would have blared caution.

So who was Elisa? She traveled by herself to Los Angeles, having stopped by in San Diego, planning to go to Santa Cruz as her final destination. Her Linkedin accounts state that she was going to be a student at the University of British Columbia. My heart goes out to her family. When I even think about what Elisa must have endured at the end, it has me trembling.

There have been lots of grand agendas listed in politics. A war on poverty (which would help reform Skid Row), universal health-care, immigration reform, gun control, and fiscal responsibility. What about an end to murder? Is that even on the radar, or have we just resigned ourselves to the inevitability that people will kill each other? I know that murder in this case is still just a suspicion. But will that issue ever become part of the dialogue? I realize that short of the situation from “Minority Report,” the Philip K. Dick short story in which murder is eliminated by the presence of psychics who predict the murders (followed by a Precrime Arrest), the end of murder is a pipe dream. Perhaps tackling the other issues mentioned above will result in lower murder rates.

As of this writing, Elisa’s autopsy failed to find the cause of death. So I’m left watching the video, wondering, like many others, what was going through her mind. Hopefully, we’ll find out soon what happened to Elisa Lam.