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Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga, former gang member who became social worker, is remembered

  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga died last month after being shot at his Aiea home.

    COURTESY PHOTO

    Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga died last month after being shot at his Aiea home.

  • COURTESY LISA MAUMALANGA
                                Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga is pictured with his wife, Lisa Maumalanaga, who was also his co-worker at Adult Friends for Youth.

    COURTESY LISA MAUMALANGA

    Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga is pictured with his wife, Lisa Maumalanaga, who was also his co-worker at Adult Friends for Youth.

Honolulu police still haven’t solved the shooting death of 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.

The family of Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga and his co-workers at Adult Friends for Youth, where he served as the nonprofit’s director of redirectional services, hope the answers come soon.

Maumalanga, 45, died March 27 after he was shot at his Aiea residence. The crime, which has been classified as a second-­degree murder, occurred around 9:45 p.m. in an established, multigenerational neighborhood, where street signs remind drivers to slow down because it’s a place where children play.

But three weeks into his loss, Maumalanga’s friends and family are more focused on how he lived than how he died. Despite his violent death, friends and family hope that the strongest memories associated with him will continue to be the peace that he brought to Hawaii’s troubled youth for over 20 years.

Maumalanga’s wife and co-worker, Lisa Maumalanga, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday that she hoped “his legacy will be about peace, empathy, acceptance, respect and love.”

“The way that he went is causing a lot of people to feel other things, but I hope that they’ll remember those because that’s who he was,” she said. “I think it will definitely give us a sense of justice and a sense of peace knowing that the killers are caught. But at the same time, I don’t want that to be the focus.”

The Maumalangas worked together at AFY for about 11 years and married in 2017. Lisa Maumalanga, AFY’s director of operations and special programs, said they were together 24/7, but “it still wasn’t enough time.”

HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said there were no new updates on the case.

Sgt. Chris Kim, coordinator of CrimeStoppers Honolulu, said anonymous tips can be shared by phone at 955-8300 or via the P-3 app or honolulucrimestoppers.org website. CrimeStoppers offers a reward of up to $1,000 if a tip leads to an arrest.

“We offer anonymity. No names are shared. No phone numbers are taken, and there are no recordings of the conversation,” Kim said. “Criminals always talk, so we know that there are people out there who know what happened. Ultimately, we want justice for the victim and the family.”

Donations for the family are being accepted at Central Pacific Bank branches — cpb.bank/ locations — made payable to the Malakai “Mo” Maumalanga Memorial Fund. Donations will also be accepted on the AFY website at afyhawaii.com/donate.

Ceremonies to mark Maumalanaga’s life started Saturday night with a traditional Tongan prayer service in the family’s garage. Tapa cloth and other offerings were presented to the family’s “fahu” (father’s oldest sister), who as the matriarch of the family is afforded the highest levels of respect.

Maumalanga was the second oldest of seven siblings, and many of his Tongan family are in Hawaii this week to celebrate his life in a way that pays homage to their culture.

On Tuesday the family will hold a private visitation from 2 to 3 p.m. at Kalihi Union Church, 2214 N. King St. A public visitation will follow from 3 to 8 p.m.

On Wednesday a public service will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. at the church. A 2 p.m. burial at Valley of the Temples Memorial Park will follow the service. After the burial, Maumalanga’s sister Lavinia Tiueti, the oldest of his siblings, said, the hair of the children of Maumalanga’s brothers will be cut short as a sign of respect.

Samantha Toki, Maumalanga’s youngest sister, said her brother was well loved by the family, who knew him as a generous and loving person.

“If anyone was in his presence, you were taken care of,” Toki said. “You were never hungry. You always felt safe, and you felt like you were family.”

Less Orsino, Mauma­langa’s former client and co-worker, said Maumalanga was like a brother and inspired him to leave the bad crowd behind, get an education and push past challenges.

“Mo will always be in our hearts. He is the real OG — original godsend — a street saint and a legend,” Orsino said. “His light will always shine through us.”

Part of the reason that Maumalanga connected so well to students like Orsino was that he was the real deal. He was arrested at 18 in connection with a gang-related drive-by shooting and went to prison. Afterward he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and went to work for AFY, which had helped mentor him as a teen.

Before his death, Mau­malanga had been working with his longtime mentor, Deborah Spencer-Chun, AFY’s president and CEO.

Spencer-Chun said Mau­malanaga’s death has left a void at AFY, but the tightknit group, including his wife, Lisa, remains committed to stopping violence and keeping kids in school.

“He was like a son to me, and he meant so much to so many of our kids,” she said. “We are working with them on the grief process.”

Spencer-Chun said it’s unfortunate that Mauma­langa’s death was followed so closely by the death of 16-year-old Iremamber Sykap, who was shot and killed April 5 by Honolulu police.

“The kids involved in that incident weren’t ours, but the young boy was friends with a lot of the kids that we work with,” she said. “The staff has stepped up and I’m proud of them. I trained Mo and Mo trained them.”

Spencer-Chun said she’s looking forward to Lisa Maumalanga returning to the job when she is ready. She still recalls that it was a case of opposites attract when Mo Maumalanga, the former gang member turned social worker, and Lisa Maumalanga, the proverbial “good girl,” married.

They went on to have two biological children, a 3-1/2-year-old and a 2-year-old, and were also raising Lisa Maumalanga’s son and two foster children. Together they made a difference in thousands of young lives.

Maumalanga said she plans to return to AFY but dreads making the commute without her husband and looking at his office, which sits across from hers.

“I’m sure I’ll have some good days and some terrible days,” she said.

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