By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Instructors and students of a kendo club expressed shock Wednesday that one of the club’s students was an escaped mental patient accused of stabbing his longtime friend to death last week in Puna.
John Akagi, chief instructor for the Kobukan Kendo Club, which uses the county’s Waiakea Recreation Center in Hilo, said that the club “had no idea” that the student he knew as “Serif Swaim” was actually David True Seal.
Akagi said the 34-year-old Seal, who escaped from Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, Oahu, on Dec. 3, 2009, and was still on the lam when he was arrested Nov. 5 for the fatal stabbing of 32-year-old Rory Thompson Wick in Eden Roc subdivision, had been a club student “about two years.”
“He was dedicated; he seemed to really like kendo. And we welcomed him in our club,” Akagi said. He described Seal as “very outgoing” and “pretty carefree, kind of like the typical surfer personality.”
Akagi described his reaction to the news of Seal’s alleged actions and his past as “one of great shock.”
“It was a revelation,” he said. “We had always known him as Serif Swaim and we were shocked that he had an alias, and actually, a real name.”
Joshua De Sa, a 17-year-old club student, described Seal as “very mellow.”
“He was a very calm person; he wasn’t really outspoken,” De Sa said. “He was very to himself and did things by himself. … He just practiced to himself, and when we would all come together and, you know, congregate, he would practice with us.”
While others interviewed by the Tribune-Herald knew about the arrest and the allegations, kendo student Gavin-John Mata didn’t know before Wednesday, and was obviously stunned by the news.
“Wow, I am totally blown away by this. From just speaking to him and spending time with him, I would have never thought, and I’m usually keen to that kind of stuff,” he said. “I was actually looking forward to training with him.”
“He always seemed gentle and kind to me, you know, like someone who would avoid problems. And for as long as I knew, he said some really simple things that helped me kind of focus,” Mata continued. “… I’d been getting into trouble and little things he told me helped me. … He told me, ‘Watch how you spend your time, because, you know, like after a certain time, there’s only bad things that go on … after a certain time of night. He said you should enjoy your sleep because that way you can use quality energy for whatever you want.”
Charles Shimizu, the club’s assistant instructor, described his reaction upon hearing the news as “speechless.”
“I didn’t know. It was just beyond my (comprehension) that he was someone who had run from the authorities,” Shimizu said. “… I’m very surprised.”
Shimizu described Seal as a “mellow person.”
I never heard him swear,” Shimizu said. “… He told me he was from Maui and that his name was Serif Swaim. I asked him, ‘How did you get this name?’ And (he was) very vague, not too much information.”
Seal had been committed to the Oahu mental facility in April 2002 after being acquitted by reason of insanity of kidnapping and attempting to rape an 8-year-old girl on Maui. Both Akagi and Shimizu acknowledged that the club teaches students of all ages, children included. Asked if Seal had shown any improper interest in the club’s youngsters, Shimizu replied: “I never saw anything like that from him.”
Shimizu described Seal as “a good student.”
“He followed commands and if he needed to get any type of training, he’d ask,” Shimizu said.
Added Akagi: “He has some physical limitations but he tried to persevere through his physical limitations. He had some health issues, but he was dedicated and he was trying to overcome those issues.”
A source who requested anonymity told the Tribune-Herald on Nov. 6 that he had seen a kendo student at the Waiakea Recreation Center wearing a gi with the inscription “Swaim,” and that he had recognized the man as Seal from an online Crimestoppers bulletin stating that he was a mental hospital escapee. He said that he had called Crimestoppers about a month ago to warn police that Seal was part of the kendo class.
Police Capt. Robert Wagner of the Hilo Criminal Investigation Division told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday that he had gone through three months of call logs from Crimestoppers and could find no record of such a call.
Akagi said that two police officers, Officer Matthew Bartz of Puna Patrol Division and Chad Fontes, a Hawaii Police Department recruit, are kendo club students.
“The police officers we have in the club, they’re pretty new here, so they didn’t know him the entire two years that he was here,” Akagi said.
Bartz declined to be interviewed for this story.
“It’s very tragic, what has happened,” Akagi said. “Our condolences go out to the victim and the family.”
Wick and Seal were friends who knew each other from Hana High School on Maui. Seal lived in a separate residence on the same Eden Roc property where Wick resided with his three children.
Wick’s celebration of life is Saturday at the Hilo Coast Church of Christ in Honomu. Visitation is 10-11 a.m. with the service at 11 a.m. and a potluck to follow.
A judge on Tuesday ordered a mental examination for Seal, who remains in custody without bail at Hawaii Community Correctional Center.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.