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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 13, 2002

Family struggles to fathom situation

Search for girl continues
Child abductions rare in Hawai'i
Classmates search for answers
Pu'uwai Momi residents united in fear, hope and dread

By Mike Leidemann and Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writers

Family members made a plea yesterday for Kahealani Indreginal's safe return. "I just want to tell Kahealani how much we love her and miss her," said her father, Vincent.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Straight-A student. Quiet family girl. Hula dancer. Serious reader. Responsible big sister. Aspiring fashion designer.

And now she's missing.

Friends, teachers and family members say 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal is a model student and daughter, the kind of kid that parents dream about.

That's what makes her disappearance so hard to believe and causes those closest to her so much worry.

"It's just so unusual because she is the responsible one," said Kahealani's aunt, Wendy Cacatian.

The sixth of eight children from a working-class family living in a Hawai'i Housing Authority complex near Pearl Harbor, Kahealani is by all accounts a shy, serious girl with no history of problems at school or home.

Yesterday, while police used helicopters and dogs to search the Pu'uwai Momi housing area in Makalapa where Kahealani lived for clues to her disappearance, those who know her tried to make sense of what has happened.

"She's not one to wander off," said her oldest sister, Tanya Tumbaga-Mamala. "Usually, she comes straight home."

Kahealani is a quiet but active girl who loves reading, music, dancing, hitting the beach and going to physical education classes at 'Aiea Elementary, where she's in the sixth grade, Tumbaga-Mamala said. Fond of wearing lots of Hawaiian jewelry, Kahealani wants to be a fashion designer, her sister said.

Two years ago, Kahealani had her own Internet Web page as part of a KidQUEST enrichment class.

"I showed my mom how I used the digital camera with the 3 1/2 disk inserted inside," Kahealani wrote, reporting on an open house at the school. "I also showed my mom how to make the picture 3D." There's a picture of her mother and younger sister on the site.

This year, Kahealani was one of about 15 girls involved in the school's performance group, which usually does shows at shopping centers during the holiday season, said her classroom teacher, Suzanne Naval.

The group gave its performances before Thanksgiving this year, Naval said.

Her classmates were shocked when they learned of her disappearance Wednesday afternoon — and alarmed because Kahealani is an A-student who nobody thinks would run away from home.

"It seemed unlikely that she had run away. She's a good student. She does well academically. She's well liked," Naval said.

Just last week Kahealani and a cousin took a test together to try to get into Kamehameha Schools, Cacatian said.

The family works hard to make ends meet.

Kahealani's mother, Lehua Tumbaga, works as a recess and lunchtime supervisor at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary School, and has seven children at home, three of them from a previous marriage. The youngest is 3. The oldest is 17.

Her father, Vincent, is self-employed as a computer repairman.

Yesterday, he stood on a shaded sidewalk of the Pu'uwai Momi housing complex in the midst of a crisis that grew more frightening with each droning pass by the HPD helicopter.

HPD Specialized Services Division officers walked Ohekani Loop in Halawa yesterday, searching for information that could help solve the disappearance of 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Across the street, he could see police detectives at a command post sending out search teams in bright orange T-shirts and camouflage pants.

"I'm just trying to keep strong for the rest of the kids," he said in words that hovered above a whisper.

He first realized his daughter was missing Tuesday night when he and his wife returned home from a shopping trip to Kmart, where they had stopped to buy a Christmas tree.

Kahealani had made a special request for a tree. They wanted to surprise her.

When he found out his daughter was missing, he didn't know what to think, or what to do. It didn't seem real.

"I was just hoping that she was at a neighbor's house or at her uncle's house in 'Aiea," he said. "I didn't want to think the worst. I hoped it was a nightmare and I would wake up."

Vincent Indreginal's sister, Lori Moreno, listened to her older brother, her heart aching. She had been handing out fliers and a color photographs of Kahealani.

Armed with those fliers, the community had pulled together Wednesday to try to find the girl, she said.

"They went to 'Ewa Beach and to Halawa and handed out fliers," Moreno said. "They gave them to bus drivers. It was really nice of them."

The past 24 hours had been especially difficult.

"I think in the beginning, with all the rumors going around, it wasn't good for Vincent and Lehua to hear," she said. "We kept them all in the house. We didn't want them to hear them. We wanted them to stay positive."

They wanted Kahealani to feel their spirit, she said so the girl could "fight her way back to us."

Her brother watched, alone in his thoughts, as Moreno did her best not to cry.

"This doesn't happen in Hawai'i," she said.

Advertiser staff writers Scott Ishikawa and Jennifer Hiller contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: The picture above of family members making a plea for Kahealani Indreginal’s safe return was taken by Advertiser photographer Richard Ambo. The photo credit was inaccurate in an earlier version of this page.