Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 25, 2004

Family friend cites role of illness in fire deaths

By Curtis Lum and Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writers

Wendell and Joanna Miranda had a joyous life with their two young daughters, surrounded by close friends and family. The two girls took dance classes, Wendell coached sports, and the family recently moved into a home in Hawai'i Kai.

An old family photo shows Wendell Miranda with daughters Jasmine, left, and Chanell. The children died Monday in what police have classified as homicide.

Miranda family photo

But their lives began to spiral downward about two years ago, when Joanna began to feel the effects of a debilitating inner-ear illness, a family friend said yesterday.

"It was a great marriage: Two beautiful young people who got married, with two beautiful young children," said Gus Hannemann, whose daughter Teuila Kaimikaua and her husband, Wilbert, were childhood friends of Wendell Miranda.

Joanna Miranda was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease, symptoms of which include a feeling of water in the ears, constant ringing, dizziness, depression and nausea. The symptoms were so acute that her personality changed, as did the lives of the family.

On Monday, the bodies of Joanna, 40, and her daughters Jasmine, 7, and Chanell, 3, were found in the charred master bedroom at the family's Lunalilo Home Road home. Police Lt. David Kamai said yesterday the three had died of smoke inhalation, but classified the girls' deaths as a homicide and their mother's as a suicide.

An investigation is continuing, Kamai said. He would not comment on reports that a suicide note had been found in the house.

"(Wendell) knows this decision was made by Joanna," Hannemann said. "He knows that Joanna probably felt that the best thing for the children is to be with her."

No warnings

Joanna Miranda was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease. The symptoms were so acute that her personality changed.

Miranda family photo

Although suffering from the illness, Joanna Miranda showed no signs she could commit such an act, Hannemann said.

"There's no particular idiosyncrasies that you could say that, 'Wow, she might do this,' or 'she might do that,' " he said.

"But Wendell used to say what a difference from what Joanna was when they first got married," Hannemann said. "They were so happy, like most couples. And then there's a change in personality; they become argumentative. It comes on slowly and gradually, and get to the point like in this case, when she no can handle."

Wendell Miranda, a former all-star football and basketball player at Kaiser High School, grew up in Hawai'i Kai. He is having a hard time accepting the deaths and is coping as best he can, Hannemann said.

Miranda refuses to visit the home the couple moved into four months ago. "He wants to remember his children and his wife. When he first met her, she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever met — fell in love with her and raised a family, until a couple of years ago when this disease came upon her," Hannemann said.

"The only thing he knows is that his wife, Joanna, Jasmine and Chanell have left him. He knows that the Lord knows that he gave them attention, care and love, 24/7."

He said Joanna had sought medical care, but her condition deteriorated. Any kind of noise, even rain, made it worse.

"Wendell wants the general public to, please, if anyone in your family is affected by this disease, please be with them, please have the patience, please have the love to be with them, because it's the toughest thing he's had to face in his life," Hannemann said.

"He has won football games, he has scored the winning baskets in the basketball games for Kaiser, but never in his life would he ever come up with the defense for this kind of sickness."

Cause unknown

A memorial was left in the front yard of 1038 Lunalilo Home Road, where the Miranda children and their mother were found dead after a house fire Monday.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Makiki resident Karen Scharff knows what it's like to live with Meniere's Disease. She has had it for about five years and spoke with Joanna Miranda eight months ago.

"I feel so heartbroken about this," Scharff said.

She said she doesn't want people to remember Joanna as a horrible woman who killed her two children.

Scharff said she would like to set up a support group for other sufferers of the disease, which has no known cause.

"I don't have the disease anywhere near as severe as Joanna had it," Scharff said. "She had horrible symptoms all the time."

Condition 'living hell'

Few doctors in Hawai'i specialize in the condition, said Scharff, who sought medical treatment from the Shohet Ear Association Medical Group in Newport Beach, Calif., which specializes in middle and inner ear disorders.

"Basically it's like having a living hell ring in your head. It's constant," she said. "You feel like the worst hangover you've ever had in your life, and the horizon is spinning.

"You're depressed, because you can't go anywhere because it makes you dizzy. You can't walk in malls because the sight of so many people walking makes you dizzy. Too much visual stimuli, even from the grocery store, makes you dizzy, too."

Reach Curtis Lum at 525-8025 or culum@honoluluadvertiser.com and Suzanne Roig at 395-8831 or sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.