The adoptive parents of a missing 6-year-old Waimanalo girl had pulled her out of Waimanalo Elementary School, the Department of Education confirmed Wednesday.
The parents filled out paperwork to have Isabella Kalua withdrawn and reported the reason was to home-school her, said a DOE official, who could not say when that occurred.
Isabella, named Ariel Sellers at birth, was initially fostered then adopted within the last year by Sonny and Lehua Kalua. They told police she has been missing since Sunday night when she was last seen in her bedroom.
Isabella’s biological mother, Melanie Joseph, said the mother of a boy in her daughter’s class told her she hadn’t been to school for about a week.
Private investigator Steve Lane, who has served as court-appointed special master in the Peter “Peter Boy” Kema Jr. case and other high-profile abuse cases, cites the lack of oversight of children who are home-schooled as a problem.
“There’s no requirement to check if the parents are qualified,” Lane said. “That’s why kids die.”
Lane says 9-year-old Hawaii island girl Shaelynn Lehano-Stone, who was starved to death by her parents and grandmother, was home-schooled.
Seven months before Lehano-Stone died, her grandmother took her out of elementary school after filing a one-page home-school request form, which greatly reduced the likelihood of someone else seeing evidence of abuse or neglect and reporting it to authorities.
In Isabella’s case, Lane questions how Child Welfare Services, which is supposed to vet foster parents, could have allowed someone with a violent criminal history to be a foster parent. Child Welfare Services did not respond to emailed questions.
Isaac K. Kalua III, aka Sonny Kalua, was permitted to foster four of Joseph’s daughters despite having a felony conviction record that includes two second- degree assaults, an attempted second-degree assault and first-degree terroristic threatening.
“How did those kids ever get in that house?” Lane asked. “I’ve been a licensed foster parent for decades. I have great respect for that system and it’s needed, but you can’t put kids in that kind of household.”
Lane said: “Probably all the Joseph kids were placed there as a result of secret ghost hearings, so who’s supposed to speak for the children? The 587 hearing involves custody, safety and placement of children all in Family Court and all closed.”
And it’s possible they were placed without a hearing, he said.
The Kalua family has declined comment. A family friend said Tuesday they were “advised not to talk because it could jeopardize the case.”
Due to their drug abuse, Joseph and former boyfriend Adam Sellers lost the five children. A family member took in one of the girls.
Meanwhile, the massive search, with volunteers organized by Joseph’s family joining forces with government agencies, continued Wednesday for the missing little girl with a big smile.
Hauoli Hoopii, 39, put her business on hold and traveled from Punaluu for a second day to help in the search.
While at Bellows Beach, she said she had a “chicken skin” moment. “Being surrounded by everybody for one purpose,” she said was the reason.
“We’re just thankful to be able to help,” Hoopii said. “We have babies of our own, so we understand the feeling. The kids never like go school. They wanted to help. It’s all over social media, so you cannot help know about it.”
Isabella’s aunt, Lana Idao, said teams marked areas they searched with purple ribbons, Isabella’s favorite color. They have doubled back to areas in Waimanalo and had even gone to Enchanted Lake and Kailua.
“They need evidence,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. Find evidence.”
Jamie Kumai, the family spokeswoman who came from Maui, said while the numbers may have decreased from the first two days, many volunteers on Wednesday went straight to their designated search locations, such as hunters with dogs who searched the mountains, and had not checked in at the command center at Waimanalo District Park.
Along with police, the FBI and other agencies are involved in the investigation and search.
Department of Land and Natural Resources searched land and ocean areas, some teaming up with local volunteers.
For the ocean search, Ocean Safety and Honolulu Fire Department’s search and rescue personnel started at Makai Pier, while DLNR started at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe using cross-grid patterns.
Honolulu Police Commissioner Ann Botticelli asked interim Chief Rade K. Vanic about the search for Isabella and the protocol for notifying the FBI and other agencies to assist in a missing child search during the Honolulu Police Commission’s meeting Wednesday.
Vanic explained a MAILE/AMBER alert was not issued for several reasons, primarily because there is no evidence to suggest Isabella was abducted. The FBI, Child Welfare Services, the National Missing Child Center and other agencies were notified within 24 hours of Isabella’s disappearance, he said. Police are using every resource available to help the hundreds of community members who have organized to canvass the area.
Information about Isabella has been sent to every airport in Hawaii, and officers on all-terrain vehicles, HPD’s helicopter, canine unit and increased patrols are some of the tactics being used by police to help find the girl, Vanic said.
“It’s clear she comes from a very caring community and family,” said Vanic, speaking to commissioners.
He asked neighbors and residents of the area to check in places where a small child could hide and to review any home surveillance footage, if available.
“If they see anything, call 911 or CrimeStoppers immediately,” he said.
Star-Advertiser reporter Peter Boylan contributed to this story.