About 40 people braved a dark, overcast Tuesday morning on the Hilo Bayfront, holding placards bearing the names of individuals killed by domestic violence, and waving to passing motorists.
Among those at the sunrise march and vigil organized by county Prosecutor Mitch Roth’s office were four family members of Brittany-Jane Royal. Royal, a 25-year-old California woman, was strangled to death last May on a Kalapana lava flow by her 22-year-old boyfriend, Boaz David Johnson, according to police. Royal’s nude, pregnant body was found tangled in a fishing line — and Johnson went missing at about that time.
The mystery was solved when Johnson’s body was found hanging from a tree on Jan. 2 in a remote kipuka on the lava rock. Police said that in a three-page note in a composition book found near the body, Johnson confessed to strangling Royal and disposing of her body in the ocean.
Royal’s mother, Julie Spahn Royal, said that she and her sons, 22-year-old Schuyler and 19-year-old Zack, and her sister, Sheila Spahn Bettencourt, were there “to honor Brittany, as a victim of domestic violence, and others who have been affected by domestic violence, as well.”
Julie Royal, who became a media figure in her quest for justice, said she had seen copies of Johnson’s suicide note.
“They got into an argument. She tried to walk away and he did not let her walk away,” she said. Royal said there had been no indication that her daughter was in an abusive relationship. She added that she can find a certain amount of peace knowing the truth.
“It doesn’t make it OK, but it’s a weight lifted off,” Royal said.
Schuyler Royal said the knowledge brings reassurance and relief.
“It gives us reassurance that there’s not someone out there on the loose who did that to her and it gives us a little closure knowing what happened, and gives us a way to move on and start the healing process,” he said.
Both Bettencourt and Zack Royal said they understood why Brittany loved the Big Island and wanted to stay.
“I want to stay,” Bettencourt said. “I see why Brittany loved it; I know her spirit’s here. We saw two whales yesterday just literally right off the coast. They were so close. … And when they went by, it was obviously a mother with her baby, so of course, we thought of Brittany with ‘Io.”
‘Io, the Hawaiian hawk, was the name Brittany Royal had chosen for her unborn son.
Zack Royal said Pahoa held a special place in his sister’s heart.
“You see all the hippie girls, all the free-minded people,” he said. “It’s just exactly where she would fit in, everything she told me about it before she was murdered. It was just exactly everything that she represented. This place was perfect for her.”
Police Detective Robert Almeida, the lead investigator in the Royal case, said he has investigated “too many” slayings that started as domestic disputes.
“It’s just too much, way too much,” he said.
Roth said there are about 500 domestic violence cases being currently handled by police and prosecutors in East Hawaii and described it as “something that happens way too often.”
“You’re not going to lock everybody up,” he said. “You need to get out and you need to educate the community to end the cycle. It really is a cycle of events. This, unfortunately, is the end of a cycle, where somebody kills somebody. Too often, it’s a husband killing a mother of children. It’s a terrible thing.”
The prosecutor was holding a placard with the name of Catherine Dingle, a 38-year-old mother of four who died hours after being stabbed repeatedly in front of dozens of witnesses on May 29, 2010. Her husband, Steve Dingle, is now serving a life sentence for her murder.
“That happened right here on the Bayfront,” Roth noted. “What a tragedy, not only for the mother and the children, but for the community.”
Another name on a placard was that of Iyanla Kuamoo-Andrews. The 2-year-old girl died April 29, 2009, five days after reportedly being found unconscious by her parents outside their Wainaku home. An autopsy found that she died from blunt force trauma to the head. Police said the injuries appeared suspicious. The toddler’s father, Henry Kuamoo, was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse on April 24, but released pending further investigation two days later. He has denied causing the girl’s death and has not been charged with a crime.
Some of the victims being honored were not from the Big Island. John Gornick said he was there for his cousin’s daughter, Karissa Kunco, a 21-year-old woman whose slain body was found in a field outside Pittsburgh two years ago.
“She was stabbed to death by her boyfriend and her body was left by the side of the road,” Gornick said. The boyfriend, Jordan Clemons, is awaiting trial.
Another perhaps unfamiliar name on a placard was that of 4-year-old Zachary Dutro-Boggess. His mother, Jessica Analani Dutro-Boggess, formerly of Hilo, and her live-in boyfriend, Brian Canady, both 23, were arrested in August 2012 at an Oregon homeless shelter after Canady allegedly kicked the boy in the stomach and the child died four days later. Dutro-Boggess was charged for not telling authorities. According to court documents, the couple didn’t seek medical attention for the boy because they were afraid of getting into trouble.
Others remembered — and this isn’t a complete list of those who’ve died due to domestic violence on the Big Island — include: Elaine and Rhonda Ahu; Pat Ahuna; Daysha Aiona-Aka; Susan Brockert; Yu DeJarnette; Sarah Fay; Pomaika‘i Ferreira; Daniel Fox; Dawn Gambsky; Yvonne Mathison; Cameron Mauga; Jolene Medeiros; Kaikela Medeiros-Dancel; Cathalene Pacheco; Hans Christian Randrup; Maris Santos Wilkerson; Victoria Vickers; and Javieanne Win.
Roth called domestic violence “a root problem for a lot of other crimes.”
“Kids who come from homes where there’s domestic violence are six times more likely to commit suicide,” he said. “We have a high domestic violence rate and we also have a high suicide rate. Kids who come from homes where there’s domestic violence are 24 times more likely to be involved in sexual assault, either as victims or offenders, than kids who come from homes where there’s no domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is something that happens way too often. It’s something that’s often looked at as a woman’s issue. It’s not a woman’s issue; it’s everybody’s issue. It affects all of us.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.