Honolulu gunman and arsonist described as ‘quirky’ and paranoid
Jerry Hanel alienated some neighbors with his bizarre, paranoid behavior, but those who knew him say they never anticipated the horrific violence he unleashed Sunday.
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Jerry Hanel had alienated neighbors with his bizarre, paranoid behavior, but some who knew him say they never anticipated the horrific violence he unleashed Sunday.
“It’s unbelievable,” his neighbor Rebecca Atkinson said in an interview Monday. “We all knew he was weird and annoying, but we didn’t really think he was that much of a danger to himself and others.”
Atkinson was so unnerved by Hanel constantly photographing her that she got a restraining order against him. But his landlord, Lois Cain, kept assuring her that he didn’t pose a danger.
“Lois said the other day, ‘He would never hurt anyone. He’s just mentally not well,’” Atkinson said. “She really wanted to get him treatment and was trying to get him into a mental health facility. I don’t think he wanted to go.”
After being served with an eviction notice last week, the 69-year-old Hanel ambushed two police officers Sunday. He shot them dead from inside the Hibiscus Drive home where he lived rent-free in exchange for doing maintenance.
He then set the house ablaze in an inferno that engulfed several other homes. He and Cain are believed to have died in the home.
“He was this quirky guy who was a loner that you’d never expect to get into this kind of carnage and damage,” said attorney Jonathan Burge, who had represented Hanel since 2015.
“I knew he was paranoid — he thought the Secret Service was following him around in his house,” Burge said. “It wasn’t violent kind of crazy. It was just kind of paranoid of the government watching him all the time.”
In fact, Hanel handled himself well enough in court that jurors acquitted him on charges of violating a restraining order and of third-degree assault, his attorney noted.
“He testified in both of those cases that he was acquitted on,” Burge said. “He came across fine in there.”
Police knew him, too, from multiple 911 calls.
“He didn’t agree with the police a lot, but he was never violent with them,” Burge said. “That’s why they really had no reason to expect him to have that reaction” when they arrived Sunday.
Hanel’s court file shows four individuals sought restraining orders against him for harassment, including his next-door neighbor Warren Daniel, starting in October 2014.
Observers are stumped as to how Hanel obtained a firearm. Police Chief Susan Ballard said he had no gun permit. Possessing a firearm while subject to a restraining order is a felony, Burge said.
“I don’t know how in the hell he got a gun because I’ve never seen or heard of him having a gun in all of his cases,” Burge said. “That one surprised the hell out of me, as I’m sure it surprised the officers. The female officer had been to his house before.”
Atkinson said her first efforts to get a restraining order against him were unsuccessful, but she kept trying. She said he would film her getting in and out of her car and other places.
“He thought I was a spy,” she said. “He would put the cameras really close to my face. He didn’t want me to walk on the sidewalk in front of my house. He got in my face and said to ‘f— off.’ I called the police, but they said since he didn’t threaten my life or physically harm me, I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Ultimately, Atkinson succeeded in getting a judge to approve a three-year injunction on Aug. 21, 2018.
“His paranoia and schizophrenia definitely got worse over the years,” Atkinson said. “A lot of the neighbors were on his side and just wanted to help him be OK, and they never thought he would hurt anyone either.”
Cain, who had been Hanel’s landlord for many years, stood by him when he was accused of harassment. But their relationship went downhill after his dog died about a year ago.
“The dog would follow him everywhere,” Burge said. “He wanted another dog and she wouldn’t let him. That kind of soured their long-standing relationship.”
In December, Cain called Burge to say Hanel needed to move out because she wanted to live in the home, but he refused to leave.
Hanel’s background is unclear. Burge said he was from “somewhere in the Eastern bloc” and relied on Czech interpreters in court. Court records show that he was divorced in 1998.
Asked about mental health treatment for his client, Burge said, “The bottom line is he didn’t think he had any problems.”