La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls on Tuesday invited firefighters, police, medics and neighbors directly impacted by the recent shooting of two Honolulu police officers and deadly fire on Hibiscus Drive to share a lunch on the campus.
Head of School Joshua Watson called the gathering the equivalent of bringing a casserole to a neighbor going through difficult times or the death of a beloved relative.
La Pietra is situated on a slope of Diamond Head crater directly above Hibiscus Drive — the street where suspect Jaroslav “Jarda” Hanel (also known as Jerry Hanel) on Jan. 19 is believed to have killed two police officers, his landlady and then apparently himself after setting a fire that destroyed seven homes in the neighborhood and damaged many others.
Ellen Farmer Freeman whose Hibiscus Drive home was burned to rubble in the fire was among the guests at the gathering.
Freeman graduated from La Pietra in 1975 and her daughter Leilani attended the school. She said the event “is like a giant hug, a surprise and a generous gesture.”
Freeman and another La Pietra alumna, Jennifer Bos Tema, were the good Samaritans who probably saved the life of Gisela Ricardi King when they stopped Hanel from stabbing her with a three-pronged rake.
The two women also tried but were unable to get Hanel to back away from their neighbor, Lois Cain, whom he allegedly beat and stabbed to death.
Freeman sat at a table with friends and fellow alumnae including childhood friend Lynne Toyofuku on the school’s Great Lawn where dozens of students as well as first responders and neighbors impacted by the incident enjoyed a lunch of stew and rice, laulaus and poi and salads provided by the Outrigger Canoe Club and parents.
Watson said La Pietra students were stunned by the unexpected violence in the school’s normally tranquil neighborhood, but almost immediately after the incident they started sending emails to the school to ask what they could do to help.
“Some girls wondered if they should bake cookies or write notes, the kinds of things children are able to do to help,” said eighth-grade teacher Alia Pan.
That was when the administration decided to harness the broader power of the school to organize Tuesday’s “Gathering of Gratitude.”
Freeman said the event was “a soothing reminder that for every negative person you come across in life there are hundreds of other people reaching out to do good.”
Many students at the school have connections to the neighborhood shattered by the shooting and fire.
Some girls once lived on Hibiscus Drive with their families. Others have relatives and friends directly harmed by the incident.
Sophomore Hadleigh Dumale said she goes to church with a family whose home was burned down.
“It is sad. We were not directly harmed but it hurt our friends, our neighbors, the whole community,” she said.
Student body president Ava Dodhi said the students intend to keep helping the neighborhood after the luncheon.
“We want to raise money and also send our neighbors and the first responders kind words in letters of appreciation,” she said.
Dumale, who is on the student council, says students are thinking of making paper lei with notes of encouragement attached for firefighters, medics and police officers.
On Tuesday, the parking lot of La Pietra was filled with fire engines, police cars and ambulances.
Medic Kaipo Hayashida was among the first emergency medical service personnel on Hibiscus Drive that Sunday, rushing in to treat the injured Gisela Ricardi King and HPD officers Tiffany Enriques and Kaulike Kalama, both of whom died.
He said he was in the midst of the frantic situation for probably 30 to 40 minutes “but it seemed much longer with the ammunition going off. I was scared for my life.”
Ladder Company 7 was one of the early fire units on the scene on Hibiscus Drive to fight the multiple house fires. On Tuesday, it was a challenge to back the huge ladder engine into the school’s parking lot for firefighters who came to the event.
Firefighters at the lunch said the incident was especially heartbreaking because many of them had worked closely with the two police officers who where killed.
Enriquez was the mother of three children and grandmother of one child. Kalama had a wife and teenage son.
“I knew both of them personally,” Ladder 7 Capt. Corey Apo said. “The first thing I thought was ‘Oh my God, their kids, their families.’”
La Pietra is the only non-religiously affiliated all-girls school on Oahu. The school serves 160 girls in grades six through 12. It is situated in an Italian style mansion that was the former Diamond Head home of kamaaina businessman Walter Dillingham and his wife Louise.
Watson says the school has a long tradition of “kahiau,” which according to Mary Pukui and Samuel Elbert’s Hawaiian-English dictionary means “to give generously from the heart with no expectation of return.”
Pan teaches La Pietra seniors an internship-based class called “Women in Leadership.” She said the message in the class is that “leadership is serving your community, it is about something bigger than you. It is not about someone serving you. It is what the first responders and the neighbors did the day of the incident, they rushed in at risk to themselves to help the survivors.”
La Pietra means “the rock,” Pan pointed out.
“Today is a perfect example of how our school can be a rock to the community as a gathering place of comfort, a gentle place of healing. This is how we can serve.”
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.