The adoptive parents of a missing 6-year-old girl have been arrested for murder, the Honolulu Police Department announced Wednesday.
Police arrested Lehua Kalua, 43, during a raid of her Waimanalo home Wednesday morning shortly after arresting her husband, Isaac Kalua III, 52, at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, where he works.
The couple’s daughter, Isabella Kalua, whose name was changed from Ariel Sellers after her adoption, had been reported missing by her parents on Sept. 13, but police revealed that they believe the girl may have been killed a month before her parents reported her disappearance.
“Based on the investigation conducted by the homicide detail, we believe that Ariel was murdered sometime in the middle of August 2021 by her adoptive parents Lehua and Isaac Kalua,” Major Ben Moszkowicz, head of the Criminal Investigations Division, said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “It’s worth noting this time element is a full month before Ariel was reported to police as a missing person.”
Isabella’s body has not yet been found and the cause of her death is still under investigation, Moszkowicz said.
The Kaluas initially told police that Isabella left their home in the middle of the night. However, HPD Homicide Lt. Deena Thoemmes said that police have since learned that the couple’s initial statement was false.
“There were some things that just weren’t adding up for us and we just followed up on what we believed the evidence suggested to us,” Thoemmes said.
After Isabella’s reported disappearance, more than 200 HPD personnel and over 300 civilians mobilized to search for the girl.
In the weeks that followed, family members and smaller groups continued searching for her.
The case was classified as a missing persons case as the community and authorities kept up the search effort, but was reclassified as a murder case late last week after new evidence came to light, Thoemmes said. She said she was unable to reveal the nature of the evidence.
Moszkowicz said the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit played a pivotal role in the investigation and “helped crack the case.”
“They are actually an amazing resource for law enforcement,” Moszkowicz said. “They gave us an insight into this case that I don’t think we would have probably been able to come up with on our own because of all their resources. We gave them a bunch of evidence and they turned around and gave us the same evidence back, but told us ‘maybe look at it this way’ or ‘maybe when you talk to this person, talk about this.’”
Moszkowicz added that authorities will be searching the Kaluas’ home throughout Wednesday and Thursday, but urged anyone who saw the Kaluas or Isabella from 2019 to August 2021 to call Crimestoppers at 808-955-8300.
If people knew the girl or her sisters, “then we want to hear from them too,” Moszkowicz said.
Isaac and Lehua Kalua are scheduled to make their first court appearance on Friday.
Interim Chief Rade Vanic thanked those who helped look for Isabella and said that there were no other suspects at this time.
“Her photo and story touched the hearts of many in the community,” Vanic said. “Unfortunately, what began as a search for a missing girl turned into a murder investigation focused on the Kaluas. We believe the evidence leads to the Kaluas and no one else.”
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