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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 14, 2002

Police question man in Kahealani case

'Everyone called her cousin'
Death prompts safety advice
Kahealani's family, friends, community grieve
Mom's loss still stings 5 years later

By Rod Ohira and Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writers

Kahealani Indreginal's family participates in a candlelight vigil at their apartment complex, the Pu'uwai Momi housing complex in Makalapa. A hiker discovered the body of a girl believed to be 11-year-old Kahealani on the 'Aiea Loop Trail.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Honolulu police late last night were questioning a man at the main police station in connection with the discovery of a body believed to be 11-year-old Kahealani Indreginal.

Police have classified the case as a murder.

A hiker discovered the body yesterday in the bushes along the 'Aiea Loop Trail.

According to a police source, authorities believe Kahealani was forced into a car Tuesday afternoon at the Pu'uwai Momi Housing complex and taken to a location other than where her body was found.

The suspects wanted the girl's gold bracelets, the source said. While the man was being questioned, police were looking for at least one other person.

The police source said Kahealani apparently was choked and stabbed by at least one assailant trying to rob her of her gold Hawaiian bracelets.

According to the source, police received a tip from a witness that led to detectives' bringing the man in for questioning.

The body was discovered at about 2 p.m. yesterday, about 72 hours after Kahealani was last seen.

Within 30 minutes, police closed the popular park as detectives, evidence specialists and the city medical examiner converged on the scene. The hiking trail is several miles from the girl's home in the Pu'uwai Momi housing complex in Makalapa.

Aiea Elementary School classmates of Kahealani Indreginal, from left: George Oliveros, Jordan Torres and Jeffrey Fredrick, all 11. The students join hands during a moment of silence at an assembly called earlier in the day to deal with students' reactions to the girl's disappearance.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"Our sympathies go out to Kahealani's family and friends," police Maj. Darryl Perry said yesterday at news conference.

The grim discovery ended an intense two days of searching conducted by city, state and federal law enforcement agencies and Kahealani's family and supporters, who went door to door in the housing complex and swept nearby areas hoping to find the 'Aiea Elementary School sixth-grader alive.

Kahealani, a shy and responsible straight-A student, had been missing since about 3 p.m. Tuesday after arriving home from school.

Police arrested a distant relative, Douglas Kruse, 37, Thursday night on an unrelated parole revocation warrant to question him about Kahealani's disappearance. He was interviewed yesterday and Perry stressed that Kruse was not a suspect. The man being questioned last night was not Kruse.

"Right now we don't have anything concrete to go on, but we're still following up on leads," said Perry, head of the Criminal Investigation Division, earlier in the day.

"Detectives are continuing to investigate the case and ask that anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity in the park area between Tuesday afternoon and today to call the police or CrimeStoppers (at 955-8300)."

The body was found dressed in school clothes like what Kahealani was last seen wearing and Officer Joe Self of the police's missing persons unit made the tentative identification of the body, found near the upper parking lot of the 'Aiea Heights Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, Perry said.

The body was found on the side of a hill and was not visible from the trail, according to Homicide Lt. Bill Kato.

Perry said family members had been contacted by investigators handling the case.

"I would think they are devastated," Perry said.

A conch shell last night summoned nearly 100 people to a grassy area near Kahealani's home. Friends and family formed a circle and held a candlelight vigil with many offering heartfelt words about their cherished Kahealani. They will be holding a vigil for the next four nights.

"I want to thank the community, family and friends for supporting my daughter," said Kahealani's mother, Lehua Tumbaga.

Yesterday afternoon, police sealed off the entrance to the 'Aiea Heights Loop Trail and the park where it starts. A little before 6 p.m. nationally known forensic entomologist Lee Goff arrived to assist the department in determining time of death.

Goff, a professor of forensic science at Chaminade University, is known for his groundbreaking work using the life cycles of insects to set the time and place of death in reconstructing crime scenes. He is often called to testify at difficult trials.

The time of the death of the girl whose body was found is considered critical to the murder investigation.

Goff left as dusk was falling over a neighborhood that is known for its peacefulness, according to neighbors.

"It's very very upsetting to us, it's a nice quiet neighborhood," a neighbor said. "It makes you wonder every time a car comes up here."

For another neighbor, Richard Little, it means thinking twice about taking his own daughter hiking along the mile-long trail that includes two camping sites, a stand of Norfolk Island pines planted in the 1920s and a Hawaiian heiau thought to have been devoted to medicinal arts in ancient times.

"I have a daughter and I take her hiking all the time and you worry about stuff like that happening in your neighborhood," Little said. "The first thing I thought was why did it have to happen here, a beautiful park."

With the sky above Pearl Harbor turning pink in the deepening twilight, a friend of the Indreginal family parked her truck on the narrow street, snuggled her 3-year-old son in her arms and walked quietly in overalls toward the entrance to the park with a bouquet of white and yellow chrysanthemums.

Wiping tears from her eyes, she bent down and placed the flowers on the curb by the caretaker's cabin.

"I'm a single mom and it's scary thinking how people can do this to an innocent child," she said, asking that her name not be used. "My son is the most precious thing in the world. Every child is. Any person who does this is sick. ... It broke my heart."

The girl's father, Vincent Indreginal, earlier said he discovered his daughter missing about 10 p.m. Tuesday when he and his wife returned home after visiting his mother in Wahiawa.

Family members searched for Kahealani that night, he said, but did not call police until 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Police initially interviewed the girl's family and neighbors Wednesday and spent Thursday combing the surrounding area, from bushes to nearby Halawa Stream, without finding a clue.

The search intensified yesterday morning as police were joined by federal agents, including some from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and postal service, as well as state sheriff's deputies and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which searched waterways by boat.

They spread out into Halawa Valley, up Salt Lake Boulevard to the old Costco, around Aloha Stadium and Stadium Mall and onto Navy property at Pearl Harbor.

Police also returned to the complex to re-interview residents and were knocking on doors about the same time the girl's body was discovered.

At 'Aiea Elementary School, principal Arthur Kaneshiro was stunned to learn of the murder. About 60 percent to 70 percent of his students live in Kahealani's neighborhood, he said.

"This is a principal's nightmare," Kaneshiro said. "I remember her eyes, so bright. There was always a smile in her eyes."

He said faculty and staff planned to meet at the school today to discuss how to address the emotional needs of the students on Monday.

Earlier yesterday, the school held a special assembly. Students listened to a police officer give them safety tips, heard from a local pastor and had an emotional moment of silence for their friend. Children cried, hugged each other and clung to their teachers and counselors.

But school counselor John Erickson said that school officials had a bad feeling from the start.

"Right away I knew this was serious," Erickson said. "She wasn't at risk. There were no telling signs that she would run away. She's an ideal student. As a school we're trying to prepare for the worst. The reality is that this is bad."

Kaneshiro said they organized yesterday's assembly as a way for students to acknowledge that something terrible had happened.

"We wanted the children to leave for the weekend knowing that there's still hope," he said quietly. "Now what do we do on Monday?"

Advertiser staff writers Curtis Lum, Beverly Creamer and Catherine Toth contributed to this report. Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.