The 45-year-old man who was killed late Saturday night in a shooting in an Aiea neighborhood was a former teenage gang member who had turned his life around and worked to ensure other high-risk youth didn’t make the same mistakes.
Deborah Spencer-Chun, president and CEO of Adult Friends for Youth, identified the man as Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga, who served as the nonprofit’s director of redirectional services.
Maumalanga was pronounced dead shortly after he was found at his residence with gunshot wounds, according to a Honolulu Emergency Medical Services report.
The crime, which has been classified as a second-degree murder, occurred around 9:45 p.m. Saturday in an established, multigenerational neighborhood, where street signs remind drivers to slow down because it’s a place where children play.
Witnesses said one or two suspects were involved in the shooting. No further details were available.
Honolulu police officers investigating at the scene Sunday declined to comment. Several officers were canvassing the neighborhood surrounding the Eke Place residence where the crime occurred.
Adult Friends for Youth, a group that Maumalanga first became acquainted with at age 13, helped mentor him. The nonprofit, which was seeded in 1985 with a federal grant, runs programs and services aimed at keeping youth in school and out of prison. It works closely with law enforcement and other social service providers.
Maumalanga was such a success story that he was hired by Adult Friends for Youth in 2002 and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. At the time of his death, he directly reported to Spencer-Chun, his former Adult Friends for Youth counselor.
“We worry about all the kids that we work with. Mo was no different,” Spencer-Chun told the Star-Advertiser on Sunday.
Maumalanga was arrested at 18 in connection with a gang-related drive-by shooting and went to prison.
“But then he started to see there was a future, there was life outside of prison,” Spencer-Chun said. “When he went to school and then we knew he would graduate with his bachelor’s and his master’s, I was like, ‘Yes!’ Then he started to work with AFY, and he said that he didn’t want to work anywhere else, that’s where his life was going to be.”
Spencer-Chun said the impact that Maumalanga had on the AFY kids over 20 years was phenomenal.
“I’ve been getting calls left and right all the way from Waipahu down to Kaimuki,” she said. “So many people, when they meet him for the first time, are drawn to him. He had that charisma. I’m just in shock right now.”
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association, said Maumalanga, who was instrumental in helping HLTA and law enforcement reduce juvenile crime in Waikiki, would be missed. Maumalanga was a speaker at HLTA’s 2018 Visitor Public Safety Conference.
“The Tongan community and Polynesian family lost a great brother, who really went beyond the call to turn people’s lives around,” Hannemann said. “This guy had the magic formula. He knew how to reach the kids.”
Like Maumalanga and Spencer-Chun, Hannemann grew up in Kalihi. Hanne-mann said his family was close with the Spencer family, who treated Maumalanga as family.
“Kalihi was very challenging for kids. If you aren’t with the right group and have a good home base, it’s very easy to take a walk on the wild side,” Hannemann said. “You always find people from Kalihi wanting to go back and help. But Mo was the real deal.”
Bulla Eastman, who knew Maumalanga through AFY’s association with the prison ministry Free Inside Ministry, said Maumalanga was “a walking billboard” for AFY.
“It wasn’t easy. People have to want to change, but for those that had a glimmer of hope, that had an inkling that they could do it, he was in it 110%,” Eastman said. “He could speak their language. He still had some ’hood in the good.”
Eastman said the incident is particularly cruel in that Maumalanga had “already defeated the odds.”
“He was living proof that you do have a hope and a future if you make the right choices,” he said.
Spencer-Chun and other members of Adult Friends for Youth took food to Maumalanga’s family Sunday. Maumalanga was raising three children ages 13, 3 and 2 and had taken in two foster children, ages 18 and 17.
Ray Andres, a neighbor who lives around the corner from the home, said he didn’t see the suspects, but he heard a barrage of gunfire about the time of the incident and then heard the victim’s wife calling for help.
“It sounded like a full clip. Then the wife came out yelling,” Andres said. “Oh my God, the sound, you cannot take out of your head.”
Andres said police and other emergency responders came quickly, but it was too late.
“The ambulance went up and came back down. It was senseless,” he said. “I tried to help.”
Andres said the crime shook the neighborhood, which is the kind of place where everybody knows each other.
“I don’t know what to feel right now,” he said. “I hope they catch ’em quick. Everybody is worried for themselves in this place.”
Andres said he knew Maumalanga for about five years.
“He was friendly, and I always saw him with his kids,” he said. “He was cool as hell. He worked with at-risk kids.”