The Honolulu Police Department on Sunday mourned the loss of two police officers who were shot and killed while responding to an apparent tenant-landlord dispute that blew up into a multihome fire near Diamond Head and left three others missing, including the shooter, who was presumed dead.
At an emotional news conference, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard choked back tears as she announced the deaths of a pair of officers whom she previously closely supervised and described as being “like my kids.”
The officers were identified as seven-year HPD veteran Tiffany Enriquez, a mother of three, and nine-year HPD veteran Kaulike Kalama, also a parent.
Ballard wept softly as she offered condolences to the victims’ families.
“The HPD ohana grieves along with you and shares your loss,” she said after composing herself.
The officers were allegedly shot by 69-year-old Jerry Hanel, described by neighbors as a mentally disturbed handyman who lived at 3015 Hibiscus Drive, the home where police responded to a woman’s call for help.
Ballard said Hanel and two females were “unaccounted for” following the massive fire believed to be started by the suspect. As the blaze grew in intensity, it hopped from structure to structure, destroying seven homes and damaging several others in the neighborhood of million-dollar-plus properties.
More than 200 first responders rushed to the scene, officials said.
>> Sunday’s blog of Hibiscus Drive shooting and fire: http://bit.ly/2sJTypq
“It will likely take days to process the crime scene, including recovery of any remains,” Ballard said.
Hanel was presumed dead inside the Hibiscus Drive home near Poni Moi Street. The woman who made the initial call was taken to the hospital with stab wounds to her leg, Ballard said.
While Ballard acknowledged it’s likely the suspect died in the fire, there was still an active search for him.
Officers responded to the neighborhood Sunday shortly after 9 a.m. Officers first attended to the stabbing victim and then walked down the driveway at 3015 Hibiscus Drive. That’s when Hanel allegedly opened fire. Enriquez was killed immediately, and Kalama was shot after more officers arrived. Both officers were shot above their bulletproof vests, Ballard said.
Ballard said the officers on the scene had to act cautiously as the house fire began to grow in intensity and further shots were heard, later presumed to be Hanel’s cache of ammunition going off in the fire.
The fire spread as police held fire crews back until they could clear the scene for safety reasons.
Dozens of police vehicles and SWAT officers arrived at the scene, filling the streets with police cars. But with the firefighters being held back, the houses burned for an hour before the fire crews went in, one witness said.
Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves said police officers provided protection for every crew member fighting the blaze. He thanked the HPD for protecting the firefighters.
Seven homes were destroyed, and at least five others suffered fire and smoke damage, Neves said.
Neighbors identified Lois Cain, 77, as one of two women whom Hanel allegedly attacked. Cain had filed an eviction notice against Hanel on Jan. 15. The filing said he did not have a rental agreement and refused to vacate.
Court records show Hanel had a troubled past, especially in getting along with other people. From 2014 to 2018 seven temporary restraining orders were filed against him by four individuals, including at least one from a resident of 3007 Hibiscus Drive.
Hanel’s attorney, Jonathan Burge, said Hanel suffered from mental problems and believed the FBI and the Secret Service were tracking him. He even barricaded himself in the downstairs space of the Hibiscus Drive house in 2015 when police came to arrest him on charges he assaulted a neighbor, he said.
“But this is shocking,” said Burge. “I didn’t think he (Hanel) was capable of such extreme violence.”
Burge said Hanel and his landlady were on friendly terms for years and that she even supported him in his court disputes. Hanel lived in the house in exchange for maintenance work.
But the relationship may have soured after Hanel’s dog died a year or so ago and he wasn’t allowed to get a new one, the attorney said.
What’s more, the landowner was moving back to Hawaii, and Hanel was told he’d have to move out.
Burge said he was planning to represent Hanel in court Tuesday on a charge that Hanel falsely called 911. Burge said Hanel was convinced people were using drugs at a nearby location. The police investigated and rejected the claim, but Hanel kept calling, resulting in the charge.
“We were planning to go to trial,” Burge said.
The shooting and house fires shocked the usually tranquil neighborhood.
Jerry Cantrell, who lives in the Tropic Seas condominiums, had just finished walking his dog through the neighborhood when he receiving a text from someone about the gunfire.
He went out to a high floor of a nearby building to see red-orange flames and thick black smoke billowing out to the ocean.
“It was just raging,” he said. “You could hear the crackling of timbers and intermittently hear ammunition.”
Down at Kapiolani Park, police were yelling to bystanders to get back and go back inside their homes because there was live fire.
“It was very dramatic,” Cantrell said. “It was very sad because we see all those neighbors. It was very shocking and sad.”
Neighbor Stephany Sofos described Hanel as a handyman who had been acting “crazy” lately. Sofos said the 77-year-old woman was downstairs talking to him when Hanel went berserk.
Sofos said she was walking her three dogs when she heard screaming from the house. She saw one of the home’s tenants bleeding and went to help, but a policeman told her to back away.
“I was trapped across the street behind a rock wall,” she said.
Fire erupted from the home and grew in intensity. As the flames spread, Sofos was ordered by police to back away some more.
Ammunition was still going off as Sofos was making a Facebook video.
“What a terrible situation in our quiet neighborhood,” Sofos said. “It’s just a really sad situation. Let’s all be good to each other. This is not a good thing.”
Waikiki resident Brant Kelsey was sitting in his van on Paki Avenue, on the other side of the archery range from Poni Moi Street, when he saw the first officer arrive alone with her lights flashing and using the squad car’s warning sounds as she approached. He said he recognized the officer and believes she was the one who later was shot.
She got out with the squad car’s lights still flashing and approached the home on Hibiscus Drive. About five minutes later three more officers approached with sirens blaring.
About 20 minutes after the first officer arrived, an ambulance pulled up at the scene, followed by a second ambulance a few minutes later. Kelsey said he didn’t hear the first shots that struck the officers.
“It was an incessant hour of sirens,” he said. About an hour after the first officer arrived, the fire broke out, and police were clearing the park because of live fire.
“So many shots,” he said. “You couldn’t tell whether they were shots fired or they were shots that were the result of the fire.”
Kelsey said he’s seen police at the same home as much as several times a week going back about a year. He left for several months last year and returned in December to see the police activity continuing at the house.
American Red Cross shelter manager Ray Moody said a family of seven with five children and a family of four were using a shelter set up at Waikiki Elementary School at about 6:30 p.m.
Moody said the Red Cross was helping the families with guidance and connecting them with their insurance companies. The family of seven lost their home to the fire, but they have renter’s insurance. The other family could not return home because of the investigation.
Another couple who also lost its home in the fire showed up at the shelter with an infant but declined to comment.
Ballard mentioned the difficulty police have when dealing with the mentally ill, saying it is a “weak area” that needs to be addressed by the community.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters Mindy Pennybacker, Allison Schaefers, Rob Shikina, Leila Fujimori and Gordon Pang contributed to this report.