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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, April 4, 2005

Records could help fill gaps in Peter Boy case

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

For the past seven years, the state Department of Human Services and Big Island police have remained at odds over their response to the mysterious disappearance of Peter Boy Kema, the 6-year-old Big Island boy repeatedly abused during his young life.

Peter Boy Kema
The stalemate between the agencies that began in April 1998 left unanswered questions about who was responsible for keeping track of the boy, questions that intensified as the Hilo boy's relatives said they had reported the boy's disappearance several times to authorities over a seven-month period.

Each agency has steadfastly refused subsequent requests by lawmakers and the media to release documents that could prove when authorities were told the child was missing — either in June 1997 or in January 1998.

But the public may finally get an answer.

At the request of state Rep. Dennis Arakaki, D-30th (Moanalua, Kalihi Valley, 'Alewa), state Human Services Director Lillian Koller said she will try to open some of the files for public scrutiny — although only after an evaluation by the state attorney general.

Peter Kema Sr. and Jaylin Kema have denied responsibility for the 1997 disappearance of their son, Peter Boy. No one has been arrested in the case, though one prosecutor says the child is "obviously" dead.

Advertiser library photo • June 3, 2000

Arakaki is eager, calling Koller's decision last week "a small victory." He said he has been suspicious of the agency's actions for some time.

"I don't think they acted with urgency," Arakaki said. "I always kind of suspected DHS was withholding information, maybe because of liability reasons. I hope it is not the case, but on the surface, that is what it seems like."

Arakaki introduced a resolution this legislative session — as he has every year since 1998 — seeking release of the records involved. In the past, human-services officials have cited confidentiality laws, dooming each of Arakaki's requests.

But Koller said a new administrative rule approved in December allows for the release of some material. The rule sets conditions for when the department can release child welfare information.

The documents could finally unravel Peter Boy's story, which is as twisted as an old knot.

The only officially released account of what happened to the boy is the one that social workers and police received from his parents, Peter Kema Sr. and Jaylin Kema.

While on a job-hunting trip to O'ahu in August 1997, Peter Kema Sr. said he gave away his 6-year-old son to a family friend he met at 'A'ala Park, a woman he called Auntie Rose Makuakane.

Police have never confirmed that she exists.

The details of what happened to Peter Boy up to that time — as told in confidential Family Court documents obtained by The Advertiser in 1998, police accounts and statements by his relatives — never waver on one point: He had been subjected to a range of disturbing abuse for much of his life.

Child Protective Services placed Peter Boy in foster care in August 1991 when he was 3 months old because doctors at Hilo Medical Center discovered "extensive physical damage," caused by twisting of limbs. He had a fractured left knee and evidence of previous fractures.

Two older siblings were placed in foster care along with him, but all of the children were eventually reunited with their parents. Despite Peter Boy's injuries, officials said they believed his parents could care for him, and the state's overriding goal was to reunite families torn by abuse.

The state closed the matter in the fall of 1995, ending its formal monitoring of Peter Boy for several years.

Social workers would learn later from the older siblings about what happened after they closed the case. The children said Peter Boy had been starved, handcuffed, forced to sleep outside or on the hallway floor of their home and often driven around Hilo while locked in the trunk of the family car, according to a Family Court document.

In April 1997, social workers were told that a teenage relative of the Kema family had alleged that Peter Boy had been abused and that he had a broken arm. In June, a social worker visited Peter Kema Sr., but did not see the children.

The elder Kema said they were on an errand with their mother.

Peter Boy was never seen again by a social worker or family members, despite repeated attempts over the course of several months.

On Jan. 9, 1998, however, a social worker and a Hilo police officer visited the home and convinced a weeping Jaylin Kema to file a missing person's report.

"I feel that Peter is a lost child. I feel like he is alone," Jaylin Kema told them, according to a Family Court document.

Big Island police have long maintained that this is the first time that they were told Peter Boy was missing.

In April 1998, they said that Child Protective Services sent them an "intake report" in June 1997 to let them know they were investigating Peter Boy's broken arm. The report did not mention that he might be missing and did not request police assistance, Big Island police said.

The director of the Department of Human Services — Koller's predecessor, Susan Chandler — disputed that account in April 1998.

"I've been told by my staff that we reported the boy missing in June," Chandler said. "I guess we read reports differently."

An accurate timeline of when police first learned of Peter Boy's disappearance goes to the heart of issues about accountability and could answer nagging questions that relatives have about whether the boy could have been located.

From the very beginning, Peter Kema Sr. and Jaylin Kema have denied ever harming their son. They have stood by their account that he was left with Auntie Rose and have pleaded for his safe return.

No one has been arrested for Peter Boy's disappearance.

For three years, police considered this a missing persons case. But in June 2000, they changed it to a homicide investigation when they submitted their final report to the Hawai'i County prosecutor's office. And that is where the case lies today.

Hawai'i County Prosecutor Jay Kimura told The Advertiser last year that to take the case further he must be able to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" but would not say if he has the evidence to do that.

"Obviously, Peter Boy is dead," Kimura said. "We have to show a person, or persons, is responsible for causing that death."

Kimura would not say how his office reached that conclusion.

"Without discussing specifics of the case, there is some evidence that he is no longer with us," Kimura said.

But there is not enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime, Big Island police said.

"I would have to say the prosecutors are a little leery there may not be enough evidence at this point in time to bring this case to fruition," Big Island police Maj. Sam Thomas told The Advertiser last year.

"We continue to be hopeful in recovering evidence and getting some witness to come forward," said Thomas, who was in charge of the department's criminal investigations division for two years. "At this point, we have exhausted the leads we did have."

Thomas would not discuss any specifics of the case because it is an ongoing investigation, but said last week he believes that human-services officials will open their files. He doubts that will help much, though.

"I don't believe the documents in and by themselves will aid the investigation," Thomas said.

But the information could clear up some of the mystery for the public — and for relatives who felt the authorities should have acted quicker.

The Kemas, who have split up, were unavailable for comment for this story.

Peter Kema Sr. is a handyman in Hilo, and his landlord said Kema did not want to talk. Jaylin Kema's location is not publicly known. Her pastor thought she was still living in the area, but she stopped coming to church a few months ago, not long after her baptism.

Jaylin Kema's two older children are living with their birth father on the Mainland. Her youngest child is with Jaylin's parents, according to relatives.

According to court documents, the couple had a recent history of violence and arguments.

Jaylin Kema said her husband had been abusive, smashing 'ukuleles against her with such force that he once broke her tooth. On another occasion, he chased her with a machete, she alleged. She also believes he has access to a shotgun or a handgun.

"He has already used manhood power and control with intimidation," she wrote in the court documents filed in January. "In December, we have been arguing and (he) had gotten to the point of holding my mouth shut, holding me down, tried to punch my face."

Jaylin Kema received a restraining order against her husband through January 2008.

Reach Mike Gordon at 525-8012 or mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com.