Family, friends gather to remember Tupuola
|Photo gallery: Kailua murder suspect in court|
|||'I hope there's a healing out of this'|
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer
By Eloise Aguiar
KAHALU'U — An overflow crowd of family and friends fondly remembered Janel Tupuola yesterday in services at the tiny church that had become a big part of her life in her final days.
Stories of the woman with "fire in her eyes" were being shared at Windward Baptist Church as a grand jury indicted her accused killer — and former boyfriend — on second-degree murder charges and five other counts in a Honolulu courtroom.
Tupuola, 30, was clubbed to death with a shotgun in the middle of a residential street in Kailua on Jan. 16 as horrified bystanders looked on. A 60-year-old man who tried to stop the beating was knocked unconscious by the assailant, a witness said.
Alapeti Siuanu Tunoa Jr., 30, of Salt Lake was indicted in the death of Tupuola. Bail was set at $1 million. Tunoa appeared in District Court yesterday and state public defender Alen Kaneshiro entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Hundreds of people attended services for Tupuola at Windward Baptist, leaving standing room only inside and dozens more holding a quiet vigil outside under a silver tarp.
They painted a portrait of a good friend, a woman of courage and strength, hard-working and hard-headed.
Meanwhile, in an e-mail appeal for financial support for the five children and husband that Tupuola left behind, friends learned that Tunoa's parents plan to seek custody of Tupuola's two youngest children. Tunoa believes he is the father of Truelyn, 2, and Junior, 1, Tupuola's family has said.
The Tupuola family is very upset at the idea and opposes the placement, said Gail Badajos, Tupuola's sister.
"Nobody wants to place the children in that kind of household," Badajos said.
LOVED ONES REMEMBER
During yesterday's service, Tupuola's oldest brother, Damon Pavao, asked everyone to set aside their anger as they honor and remember Janel's life.
Pavao said his sister was a strong woman who would stare you down to get her way and lived life to the fullest, never letting adversity win out.
"She had the courage and strength to still continue no matter what laid ahead of her," he said, adding that once her mind was made up, you didn't want to cross her. "She had the fire in her eyes. She always had that fire in her eyes."
Tupuola, surrounded by bouquets of red roses, lay in an open casket. The sight brought tears to friends and relatives, and many lovingly touched her hand or kissed her goodbye.
Breaking into tears several times during the eulogy, Pavao read a note from Tupuola's best friend.
"Janel saw me through some of the hardest times of my life with no hesitation or expectations," wrote Rebecca Mayo. "When I couldn't buy food or clothing for my children, Janel stepped in and bought them without being asked."
Tupuola touched many people's lives and when her brother, mother or pastor talked about her personality, people laughed with recognition.
Her smile was big and so was her heart, said Maile Badajos, Tupuola's mother.
"She put your interest before hers to make sure that whatever need you wanted fulfilled, she would go out of her way to do it," said Maile Badajos.
She was hardworking, hard-headed and tough, said her husband, Eucharis Tupuola. She never missed work even when she was sick, he said.
"She always wanted everything her way and everything went her way all the time," Eucharis Tupuola said. "Whether she's wrong or right, everybody knows she's going to be right anyway."
While the memory brought more laughter, Eucharis Tupuola, said he was grateful for her support through the roller-coaster life he led, including drug use, rehabilitation and his newfound trust in Jesus Christ. Together for the last four weeks of her life, they declared Jesus their savior, started to learn more about the Bible and received marriage counseling.
Pastor Kevin Akana, who led the services and saw only the new, committed Janel, said Janel came into his life searching for the truth and found it through Jesus. She was smart, always questioning and able to see where she might need to change. Excited about her newfound knowledge, she promised to spread the word to her friends and influence them, Akana said.
Akana said he knew about the ex-boyfriend and the threats and questioned Tupuola about her safety.
She told the ex-boyfriend, "Your threatening is not going to change anything. If you're going to kill me, you can go ahead and kill me, but I'm going to do the right thing," he said, adding that she also said, "I told him he needs to go the right way."
"She did not live her life in fear. I can assure you."
Tunoa, who is 6-feet-2 and weighs 340 pounds, allegedly beat Tupuola to death with the butt of a shotgun on Maluniu Avenue in Kailua.
Tunoa has a long criminal history that includes 67 arrests as a juvenile and convictions for violent crimes.
Tunoa was released from prison March 1, 2001, after serving only four years of a 20-year sentence on convictions of first- and second-degree robbery, according to the Hawai'i Paroling Authority.
In addition to the murder charge, Tunoa was indicted yesterday on criminal property damage in the first degree, terroristic threatening in the first degree, assault in the first degree and two firearms charges, including being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The terroristic threatening and assault charges involve threats and an attack Tunoa allegedly made against a 60-year-old witness to the beating, who was taken to Castle Medical Center in critical condition.
Pastor Keith Ryder, who sang at Tupuola's service yesterday, decried the two recent violent deaths, including that of toddler Cyrus Belt, who was thrown from a freeway overpass a day after Tupuola was killed.
Everybody in Hawai'i was on a high because of the success of the University of Hawai'i football team, but that all ended with the two deaths, said Ryder, who was instrumental in organizing the Kahalu'u community to fight against the use of crystal methamphetamine, or ice.
"All of this comes back to ice," Ryder said. "The problem is still crystal methamphetamine."Advertiser staff writer Jim Dooley contributed to this report.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at firstname.lastname@example.org.