A few hundred volunteers from across the island continued searching along with police Tuesday for a missing 6-year-old Waimanalo girl, whose adoptive parents told police they last saw her Sunday night in her bedroom.
Waimanalo Elementary School first grader Isabella Kalua, named Ariel at birth, was reportedly last seen at 9 p.m. Sunday at home on Puha Street.
Her biological mother, Melanie Joseph, 33, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the last time she saw her daughter on a scheduled visit was about a year ago, and alleges there were signs of physical abuse.
Kalua’s adoptive parents had custody of four of Joseph’s five daughters for four years. A fifth, a 5-year-old, lives with a relative.
According to the Joseph family, after Isabella disappeared, Child Welfare Services took custody Monday of the three siblings, ages 12, 3, 1, who they say were living with the Sonny and Lehua Kalua family.
A Department of Human Services spokeswoman said Tuesday she put in an inquiry to confirm whether the children had been removed and whether it is standard protocol to do so when a child goes missing.
Joseph and former boyfriend Adam Sellers had the children taken by Child Welfare Services because of their drug use, relatives said. The two had been living with relatives in Waimanalo but became homeless, living in the rural back roads of Waimanalo. Sellers is currently at a drug rehabilitation center, relatives said.
Isabella had been living with the Kaluas for four years, and at some point within the past year or so, the Kaluas adopted her and changed her name, said Alena Kaeo, Joseph’s cousin.
Joseph said she had known the adoptive mother’s brother and had asked whether she could also care for her 1-year-old, but the Kaluas got custody of all four.
The 33-year-old mother said if her daughter did leave the house on her own in the middle of the night, “I think she would be in the bushes that way,” pointing toward the Kalua house, on the corner of Kakaina and Hihimanu streets. The house is on a flag lot off Puha.
But she does not think she is the type to wander off. “She stuck to me,” Joseph said. “I think something happened.”
A post on social media said the home’s video surveillance showed the child left the house at 1 a.m., but the Star-Advertiser could not verify that.
Sonny Kalua, also known as Isaac K. Kalua III, the named lessee on the house at 41-610 Puha St. where the 6-year-old was last seen, has a history of violent crimes.
He pleaded guilty Jan. 3, 2001, to one count of first- degree terroristic threatening, two counts of second-degree assault and one count of attempted second-degree assault.
A friend at the Kalua home, where a small group gathered in the garage, said the Kaluas had been advised not to talk. “We don’t want to jeopardize the case,” she said.
Joseph’s family organized the large search and worked in conjunction with police, who searched with a helicopter, ATVs and drones. An off-duty HPD captain used a drone programmed to call the little girl by name.
They used Waimanalo District Park as their command center because the family’s home in the subdivision was too small. Police used the district park as well as Waimanalo Beach Park as command posts.
The Honolulu Police Department sent dozens of officers to comb neighbor‑ hoods, beaches and parks on foot and by air. Late Tuesday afternoon they were knocking on doors near the Kaluas’ home.
This was the second day of the massive search. Many came out in the morning and kept searching into the night.
Verna Tubon, 46, of Ewa Beach joined after work and said, “Seeing everyone come together, it’s so wonderful. I don’t know the girl or her parents, but to know a little girl is lost somewhere, it really hit me.”
She said one of the girl’s aunts took in two of her children when she was having a hard time.
Brandi Jarra, 33, of Nana-kuli said, “We felt very strongly to come out and help search for this little girl.”
She and her husband shut down their restaurant, 808 Urban Bowls, to search the whole day. “If it was our kid, we would want our community to come together.”
Verna Gabin, 63, of Waimanalo said despite her sciatica, she walked the whole day covering a 20-acre ranch.
Reece Manastad, 18, took the day off to search the back roads with two friends. “We try to help our community,” he said. “Nothing really happens like this in Waimanalo. It’s kind of scary, especially if you have younger cousins.”
Isaiah Perez, 21, who searched for two days, said, “Yesterday we searched Sherwoods to Bellows where she could be. Today, all the back roads, any trails, streams, tunnels, anywhere she could possibly be.”
William Bryant Jr., 18, said he searched Monday night after work for five hours and was back at it Tuesday. “Kids are the most important thing. I would do anything if this was my kid.”
The volunteers expanded their search to Kailua and Enchanted Lake.
“We are thankful for the many families and individuals who are helping to search for Isabella, especially the volunteer search captains and their teams. It’s obvious that she comes from a caring family and community, and we are hopeful that we will find her soon and find her safe,” said interim HPD Chief Rade Vanic. “At this time, we’re asking neighbors to check their yards and properties for anywhere that a young child might go to or be able to hide. If you have home security video, please check to see if there’s anything that might help us. If you find something, call 911 or CrimeStoppers immediately.”
On Sunday night a neighbor, who declined to be identified, said she hung her clothes out at 10:15 p.m. Sunday and saw the Kalua house was dark. Her dog barked once at 11:30 p.m., but that was it. The dog sleeps with her and would have barked had there been someone outside at 1 a.m.
She said Isabella Kalua rarely came out on the sidewalk or street to play. The neighbor recalled only once when the little girl and one of her sisters did come out and said, “Hi, Auntie!”
Another neighbor, who asked not to be named, said the couple was excited when they got the kids and that they pay good attention to them.
She has grandchildren and said if it was an abduction, “our kids are all over the place. We’re very upset by it because a little child like that …”