Missing Waimanalo girl not forgotten on seventh birthday

·3 min read

Nov. 6—Isabella Kalua should be celebrating her seventh birthday today. Instead, many fear the worst for the child, who was reported missing from her home Sept. 13 by her adoptive parents, Isaac and Lehua Kalua.

Friends, family and supporters will mark the Waimanalo girl's birthday by tying ribbons and other items in her favorite color—purple—on a fence at the street corner near the Puha Street home where she lived.

The Kaluas for the most part have maintained their public silence about their missing daughter. Honolulu police also have been silent these many weeks following Isabella's disappearance, saying only that the investigation remains active and is still classified as a missing-person case.

The Kaluas said the girl was last seen in her bedroom at 9 p.m. Sept. 12 ; they reported her missing the next morning. Lehua Kalua initially indicated in a post on the Stolen Stuff Hawaii Facebook group that Isabella might have wandered away in the middle of the night.

Attorney William Harrison, who has served as a spokesman for the family, said early on that the couple was cooperating with police. He also said Isabella often slept in the yard but could have been abducted. The Kaluas asked him not to respond to further questions from the media, citing threats they said they had received.

Nearly 2, 000 supporters of Isabella's biological family have signed a petition—initiated by a relative of the girl's biological mother—opposing the Kaluas' adoption of her 1-year old sister.

Isabella, whose birth name is Ariel Pilialoha Sellers, and the 1-year-old are among four biological daughters of Melanie Joseph who were placed in the Kaluas' home by state Child Welfare Services. The other two are ages 12 and 3.

After Isabella went missing, police removed her sisters from the home. Because child welfare rec ­ords are not open to the public, it's unclear whether they have returned to the residence. A Honolulu Star-Advertiser call to the family was not returned. Harrison said Thursday he is unaware of the status of Isabella's three sisters.

Joseph's cousin Taryn Napoleon said Joseph was informed that a Family Court hearing regarding the adoption of the youngest girl was set for Nov. 16. Any hearing would be closed to the public.

Both Isabella's maternal grandmother, Barbara Kumai, who at one time cared for Isabella and her older sister, and paternal grandmother, Julie Harding, a social worker in Pahoa, have told the Star-Advertiser they are willing to take in the children. Harding said Isabella and the 12-and 3-year-old girls were adopted Jan. 26 by the Kaluas following several years of foster care.

So far, the petition opposing adoption of the youngest girl, which was initiated by Napoleon on Change.org, has tallied 1, 925 supporters. It cites Isaac Kalua's 2001 conviction for four felony charges of assault, attempted assault and terroristic threatening, which he pleaded guilty to and for which he was sentenced to two weekends in jail and five years' probation.

The petition also notes Lehua Kalua's prior drug charge, also from 20 years ago. Kalua, 43, formerly known as Lehua Kanahele, was indicted in 2000 for felony drug promotion. After completing a two-year drug court program, the charge was dismissed in 2002.

According to relatives, Isabella may have had a learning or developmental disability. Both biological grandmothers hope their granddaughters can be returned to their family.

As Isabella's birthday approached, Kumai recalled lovingly how the girl, full of personality, would always introduce herself to visitors she didn't know, saying, "I am Ariel." Kumai added, "If you played along with her and called her something else, like Tinkerbell, she would always say, 'No, I'm Ariel.'"

On Oct. 21 an anonymous donor added $10, 000 to Honolulu CrimeStoppers' $1, 000 reward for information leading to the person responsible for Isabella's disappearance or leading to her recovery. Submit tips to CrimeStoppers at 808-961-8300 or via honolulucrime stoppers.org or the P3 Tips app.