Improving Hawaii’s response to missing children requires a multi-pronged approach

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HONOLULU (KHON2) – The disappearance of Isabella Kalua – also known as Ariel Sellers – in Waimanalo is the latest unresolved missing child case on the islands. Other cases have ended in tragedy, and others receive little or no attention. This is something that a lot of people in Hawaii want to see changed.

When Isabella went to bed on Sunday, September 12 at her home in Waimanalo, it was the last time her foster family said she had been seen. Isabella was then reported missing to police on Monday, September 13. It was not until 8:59 a.m. on Monday that a press release was released to the Honolulu media by Crimestoppers and not by a Maile Amber Alert due to the constraints associated with the use of this mass blasting system.

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“I think what we’ve seen here is that it’s rarely used,” said Michael Kitchens, moderator of the Stolen Stuff Hawaii group and advocate for victims of crime and the criminal justice system.

“We’ve had so many major profile cases, and it hasn’t been used. In this situation, I think the current alert needs to be changed. When it comes to the life of a child, I think we have to use all the tools at once.

Michael Kitchens, Stolen Stuff Hawaii moderator and advocate for victims of crime and the criminal justice system

“It is also very important to note that in the absence of an Amber alert, there will always be a very strong law enforcement response to a missing child,” said Amanda Leonard, coordinator across the board. The State Missing Child Center Hawaii – a division within the Attorney General’s office that helps facilitate multi-agency response to missing child cases “It doesn’t mean that, because there’s no activation, there is no aggressive response.

Field efforts in the Waimanalo area found a handful of clues, but not Isabella. The the search has been suspended Monday, September 20.

There was a change of command last weekend in the Criminal Investigation Division of the HPD as Major Benjamin Moszkowicz took over while Major Stephen Gerona – the target of prosecution and harassment complaints – Has been reassigned to the legislative liaison office.

One lawsuit allegation against Gerona was that he had discouraged a Maile Amber alert and early investigation when the toddler Kytana Ancog was not returned by her father. Kytana was murdered and the father was charged with the crime.

Always Investigating asked HPD what impact the CID overhaul had on Isabella’s investigation.

HPD told KHON2: “Investigators are continuing to work on the case. The change of commander has no impact on the investigation.

Always Investigating asked for the extent of multi-agency efforts three weeks after the investigation began, and HPD said, “HPD has and continues to work with our law enforcement partners, including the FBI , on the Isabella Kalua investigation. “

“The Feds have immense power,” Kitchens said. “And they have a lot more capabilities than HPD in a lot of ways. “

Whether it’s Isabella now, Benny Rapoza who’s been missing on the island of Hawaii since 2019, or children who have met tragic endings – like Kytana or Peter Boy Kema – these are just the high-profile cases. of missing children. According to data collected from police departments and court records from all counties, thousands of situations per year can be classified as missing child incidents.

“This includes custody interference cases, which are also known as parental abductions, as well as endangered runaways – which is a huge problem here in Hawaii,” Leonard said. “It can sometimes be life threatening and their chances of being victimized on the streets are very high.”

Still investigating, asked the head of the Hawaii Missing Child Center as to whether he has made progress on plans cited in a 2020 annual report to try to get law enforcement and the criminal justice system to improve their response, not only for kidnappings but also for cases detention and missing fugitives.

The local center for missing children turned to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for resources, training and improvement of local tactics. Isabella’s information is now also in the national database. Their other recent efforts include intensive federal training for local authorities.

“These are highly skilled and trained officers who specialize in responding to child abductions,” Leonard said. “We try to make sure that every unit that responds to these different types of cases has the training they need and are always able to seek additional training and resources. Keep in mind that these people can be promoted if there is turnover. So, it is a constant effort to do refresher trainings.

Ensuring that all types of missing child cases receive immediate and thorough attention remains a challenge.

“We are definitely continuing our collaborative efforts to focus on these very difficult areas, including Amber Alert activations, including child abduction response, including understanding the dynamics of parental abduction, which is very, very complex and involves a lot of legal issues, ”Leonard says. “We are always trying to improve the response. Complacency is never an option, especially in responding to crimes against children. “

Find out what’s going on around Hawaii on our Local News page

If you have any information about Isabella Kalua, call Crimestoppers at 808-955-8300.
Click here for more missing child alerts on all other active cases of missing children in Hawaii.


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