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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 14, 2010

Family, friends still struggling as they say farewell to Kaiya

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Manny Kapahu (with sunglasses), the father of Kaiya Kalora Kapahu, grieves at her funeral. The special-needs child died from alleged neglect in her uncle’s care.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Friends and family of Kaiya Kapahu released rainbow pigeons at her funeral. “ I can’t help but think that when she needed me most, I wasn’t there,” said her dad, Manny Kapahu.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kaiya Kalora Kapahu

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More than 150 people gathered yesterday in Honolulu to celebrate the brief life of 5-year-old Kaiya Kalora Kapahu.

A display at the front of the East Chapel at Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary featured a koa urn containing the child's ashes, flanked by flowers and a large maile lei-draped portrait of the smiling little girl.

Kahu Sherman Thompson offered a touching eulogy to comfort mourners and assure them that "Kaiya now lives in eternal peace and joy."

The service concluded with a musical video collage of photos of the child with family members, and then moved to the chapel parking lot where a rainbow-colored array of 50 racing pigeons was released as a colorful farewell to Kaiya.

But beneath the mood of the day there lingered a sense of dread, anger and failing associated with the circumstances surrounding the girl's death.

"We do come here to celebrate the life of my niece, Kaiya," Daniel Kapahu, Kaiya's uncle, said moments before the funeral began. "And the outpouring of the love within the community has been truly, truly appreciated."

Yet in the next breath he spoke of the twofold tragedy his family has suffered.

"We don't understand. We're just in shock, and in grief," he said. "Not only did we lose our niece, but it was our brother that was responsible for her passing."

Kaiya, who has a twin sister, suffered from the developmental disorder known as Rett syndrome, which left her unable to speak or care for herself. Her twin was unaffected.

Moments after the cloud of pigeons had fluttered out of view, Manuel "Manny" Kapahu, Kaiya's father, said the photos of him with Kaiya at the end of the video memorial were taken in Arizona, where his older brother, Leonard "Sonny" Orta Jr., 47, was living.

"I stayed with him (Orta) for a month, to make sure he could take care of her," said Manny Kapahu, 41. "But I can't help but think that when she needed me most, I wasn't there. I was two weeks away from getting her. I had her ticket."


Orta has been charged with first-degree murder for allegedly depriving the child of medications and food 10 days before her death, and then concealing her body in his Phoenix apartment for a month or more afterward. Kaiya's date of death is listed as Feb. 18.

Manny Kapahu left Kaiya with his brother in August and was paying him $500 a month to care for her. In an interview last month with The Advertiser, Kapahu said it wasn't an easy decision to leave her there, but that she couldn't get the treatment she needed on the military base at Kwajalein Atoll, where he worked at that time and lived with his four children. He also said he needed to earn enough money to take care of Kaiya's medical needs and to support her and her three siblings.

He said he was going through a divorce at the time and was worried about going into debt.

Phoenix police allege that Orta cashed the last check from Kapahu after Kaiya had died.

Well before then, Manny Kapahu already suspected something was wrong and had decided to go to Arizona and get his daughter back.

Following the funeral, Paul Santos, Manny Kapahu's uncle on his mother's side, spoke of having agonizing mixed emotions.

"There's anger — strong anger," said Santos, 63, of Ka'u on the Big Island. "And also the question, why? On one hand my nephew, Sonny, faces the death penalty. And on one hand I feel like he more than deserves it. And yet on the other side, I keep seeing this cute little kid I had as a nephew. And it's hard.

"I used to give him baths. I was young at the time, and he was my first nephew. He was a cute kid. And he was a smart kid. I don't know what happened to him. I saw him on the news and he looks like Charles Manson. He doesn't look like my nephew anymore."

Santos said no one in the family has spoken to Orta since his arrest.

And that's how it could remain, as far as his brother Manny is concerned.

"Honestly, at first I wanted the death penalty," Manny Kapahu said, as he took a puff on his cigarette in the mortuary parking lot. "No. I want him to sit in jail for the rest of his life, so he can think about what he did.

"Because all's he did was give up. You don't give up on a child that cannot even say, 'I'm hungry,' or, you know, 'my diaper's wet.' You just don't do that. And he only had her seven months. Seven months — and he gave up on her. I have no sympathy."