HONOLULU — A suspect wanted in the killing of the first police officer to be fatally shot on Hawaii’s Big Island likely remains hidden on the mostly rural eastern side of the vast island, authorities said Thursday.
While the 4,028-square-mile (10,432-square-kilometer) island has a varied terrain ranging from residential to dense forests, police said they believe Justin Waiki will be captured soon, Maj. Samuel Jelsma said.
A manhunt has been underway since Waiki allegedly shot and killed Officer Bronson Kaimana Kaliloa during a traffic stop Tuesday night near Mountain View, a community that’s a mix of houses on large lots and undeveloped property.
Kaliloa, a 10-year veteran county police force, was struck in the neck and leg and died at a hospital early Wednesday.
Other officers returned fire at the suspect, who fled into the brush. It wasn’t known if he was hit.
“Everything happened very quickly,” Jelsma said. “During the exchange of fire, he was able to escape. It was dark, too, at the time.” It also was raining hard at time Jelsma said, and so an aircraft wasn’t able to assist until the next day.
The shooting occurred in the mostly rural eastern side of the island that has been in the news lately because of the erupting Kilauea volcano.
“As far as the lava flow, that really has no impact on this,” Jelsma said. “We don’t anticipate him going toward the flow. But if he does that would kind of corner him in.”
The eruption zone is heavily patrolled by the National Guard, and there are many police checkpoints.
While Waiki’s last known address is in Las Vegas, he has a criminal history on the Big Island, Jelsma said. “It is our belief that he is receiving assistance from outside sources,” Jelsma said.
The U.S. Marshals Service and FBI are offering $10,000 rewards for information leading to Waiki’s capture. The agencies also are assisting with the search, along with state sheriffs.
Kaliloa, 46, had been married for 23 years and had three children. He was named “Officer of the Year” for his district in 2014.
Saying the slain officer’s family wasn’t ready to talk, Kaliloa’s niece, Kawehi Haug, sent a Facebook message to The Associated Press.
“He was strong and kind and funny and smart and chivalrous and served his community every day as an honest and upstanding police officer whose convictions guided him to always do the right thing,” she wrote. “He was a husband that saw himself as equal to his wife in every way, and a father who loved and cared for his three babies from the moment he laid eyes on them.”
Haug explained that Kaliloa and his wife adopted three children, ages 3, 4 and 7, through the state foster care system.
“They surrounded those babies with security and love and he honored them every single day by giving them everything he possibly could,” she wrote. “…Tragic doesn’t even begin to describe this horror.”
This version of the story corrects the age of Kaliloa’s oldest child, who is 7, not 6.