The family of Elian De La Cerda, the 19-year-old visitor from California who was stabbed to death Tuesday morning in Waikiki, described him as a fun-loving adventurer who had saved for his long-awaited Hawaii vacation and was saving to buy a house.
Juan De La Cerda, Elian De La Cerda’s father, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Thursday that he last spoke to his son May 28 when his son texted him some pictures and an update on his Hawaii vacation.
“He was having a great time. My response was, ‘OK, be out there, have fun and just be safe,’” Juan De La Cerda told the Star-Advertiser on Thursday.
Elian De La Cerda’s homicide was one of two stabbings that took place Tuesday in Waikiki, putting residents, government officials and tourism officials on high alert. The other stabbing, which happened about 30 minutes later, was not fatal, but it is still a concern for a community in transition. Waikiki crime dropped dramatically during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has returned as visitors and traffic have come back to the state’s top tourism district.
Honolulu police Sgt. Malcolm Lutu has spent the past 3-1/2 years assigned to patrol District 6, 1.5 square miles that include the Waikiki peninsula and are bordered by the Ala Wai Canal, the slopes of Diamond Head and the Pacific Ocean.
As travel restrictions ease and tourists return to Waikiki, police are busier, Lutu said. He said police are responding to more calls for service related to domestic violence complaints at Waikiki hotels and thefts of visitor property from beaches, parks and other tourist attractions. Nuisance complaints about homeless individuals interacting with visitors are also on the rise, police said.
Visitors from Asia are not arriving in their traditional droves, and the makeup of the Waikiki community is different from what it was pre-pandemic.
“The stabbings were out of character, and they did not involve local residents,” Lutu told the Star-Advertiser. “People need to remember, it is a paradise, but we are still a big city that deals with certain types of crimes. Behave like you would at home.”
Elian De La Cerda departed for Hawaii on May 26 and was due to return home Tuesday.
Instead, Juan De La Cerda said he and other family members and friends were shocked to learn that Elian De La Cerda had been killed in Waikiki earlier that day and that the cause of death was a stab wound to the chest. Honolulu police said the stabbing occurred near the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole statue at the intersection of Kalakaua and Ohua avenues at about 12:40 a.m. Tuesday.
Police said De La Cerda and his friend, 23, who was also visiting Hawaii from California, were confronted by a group. A fight ensued, and the victim was stabbed in the upper body, police added. Emergency Medical Services personnel responded and pronounced De La Cerda dead at the scene.
Police said an 18-year-old man and an unknown female struck one of De La Cerda’s friends with a skateboard and assaulted him. He sustained a contusion to the head and a minor laceration to his hand in the affray and was treated and released at a hospital.
District 6 Crime Reduction Unit officers arrested Oscar K. Cardona on Kalakaua Avenue close to where he allegedly stabbed De La Cerda. He was booked on suspicion of second-degree murder but has not been charged. The case is pending investigation.
Cardona has 17 misdemeanor citations since March 2020, according to court documents.
He was cited 13 times for violating COVID-19 emergency laws in Waikiki, with the first citation issued in August. His COVID-19 violations were not prosecuted.
On Aug. 16 Cardona was observed by a Waikiki patrol officer sitting on Ala Wai Boulevard without a mask and too close to others to be observing physical distancing.
Four days later he was again cited on Ala Wai Boulevard for not practicing physical distancing.
Police said they haven’t made any arrests in connection with the related skateboard incident, and said there may be more suspects involved. Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 955-8300.
De La Cerda’s aunt Areme De La Cerda said the family hopes someone will come forward to bring justice to her nephew, who had a big smile and big dreams to match.
“We need justice. We need them to come forward. We need to know why they did what they did,” she said. “They took an innocent soul who did not have to leave us. He was so young, with the whole future ahead of him.”
De La Cerda said she still recalls the last conversation that she had with her nephew in April.
“He was working at Tesla and wanted to save up money to buy his own house and not be in an apartment his whole life,” she said. “He was always very independent. Elian always wanted to go out to Hawaii. He finally made it out there, but he never made it back home.”
His older brother, Fabian De La Cerda, said his brother is greatly missed by family and friends, who never experienced a dull moment while he was around.
De La Cerda said he will always cherish the times when he and his brother would gather at their grandparents’ ranch.
“We were always outside. We were never glued to a screen. We liked to get our hands dirty,” he said. “He was always living the best life that he could.”
De La Cerda said his brother had tried to talk him into going on the Hawaii trip but that he had to decline because of previous plans.
De La Cerda said his brother loved to travel, and had planned to go to Las Vegas next week.
“He was always, always looking for new adventures,” Juan De La Cerda said. “He loved exploring new places. Hawaii was always something that he wanted to achieve. He saved up money for quite a while to go over there.”
He said Hawaii was the most distant trip that his son had gone on, but the family wasn’t worried because to them it was “like Disneyland.”
Esther Rodriguez, Elian De La Cerda’s stepmother, said, “You think that they are just out there having fun and they are going to come back and share with everybody else what they saw out there and show pictures. Never did you think they were going to call and say, ‘He’s dead,’ and even worse, ‘Somebody murdered him.’
“It’s a nightmare that we can’t assimilate and we can’t believe — and we don’t want to believe. We want to think that one day he’s going to walk (through) that door.
“He was an excellent human being. He was very loving and very caring. He had the brightest smile that could light up any room.”
Fabian De La Cerda said funeral arrangements are still being planned. People gathered to recite the rosary in Elian De La Cerda’s honor Wednesday in Fresno, Calif. Friends and family also have held candlelit ceremonies for him in other California locations.
Fabian De La Cerda said the world lost a good person when his brother died. Now he hopes the takeaway will be justice for his brother and those he left behind. He also hopes that there will be a concerted effort to make Waikiki safer and to ensure that visitors know to be careful.
“You really don’t know what other people have in their thoughts or even what they have with them or you don’t know their mental state,” he said. “I understand that there was another incident about 30 minutes after. Just always be cautious of your surroundings because you really don’t know what’s happening 2 feet away from you, especially in Hawaii, when you are supposed to go on vacation. It’s the last thing you want to be thinking about.”
There was also a separate and unrelated stabbing at about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday near the Kapahulu Groin.
In that case Otis Alexander, a 29-year-old who listed a Las Vegas phone number, was charged with first-degree assault, possession, use or threat to use a switchblade knife in commission of a crime, and first-degree terroristic threatening.
His bail was set at $100,000, and he posted Wednesday via A1 Bail Bonds. An agent for A-1 Bail Bonds declined comment.
Alexander allegedly got into an argument with a couple by the beach. A friend of the couple’s stepped in, police said, and tried to get Anderson to back off and move on after Anderson allegedly assaulted the man sitting with his partner. Anderson then allegedly stabbed the couple’s friend with a switchblade before fleeing the scene, police said.
His arraignment and plea are scheduled for Monday.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter Rosemarie Bernardo contributed to this story.