KALAHEO — Kauai police on Thursday located missing woman Emi Oka alive in a ravine behind the homes on Kakela Makai Drive in Kalaheo.
About 7:45 a.m., a resident of Kakela Makai Drive called police after hearing what sounded like a female screaming for help from a vegetated area nearby. Officers responded to the area and soon discovered a woman stranded in the nearby ravine.
Police identified her as Emi Oka, 40, of Kalaheo, who had been missing since Jan. 31.
Firefighters from the Kalaheo fire station were dispatched to the scene, where they walked into the valley and guided Oka out to safety.
No injuries were reported, but Oka displayed signs of dehydration and weight loss.
Oka was transported by medics to Wilcox Hospital for further treatment.
“We are happy and relieved that Emi Oka is safe, and has been reunited with her family,” stated Acting Chief of Police Michael Contrades.
A week had passed since Emi Oka walked out of her home on a rainy night. Barefoot and in the midst of a psychotic episode, Oka wore only a sundress and a rosary necklace.
Ivanka Oka last saw her daughter about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Ivanka Oka was watching TV Wednesday, unwinding from a stressful day. That morning she had taken her daughter to her appointment with a psychiatrist in Lihue. Emi Oka was given an injection and some pills to help her cope with hallucinatory episodes she suffers from due to her schizophrenia.
While waiting for the doctor to write a prescription, Ivanka Oka said her daughter suddenly got scared — “She grabbed my hand, and she said, ‘It’s not safe here. We have to leave.’”
Oka was relieved to find her daughter a few minutes later buying a cup of coffee at a gas station. But while waiting in traffic on Rice Street, Emi Oka started getting nervous again. Speaking to someone or something only she could see, Oka said, “Get out of my mother’s body.”
She jumped out of the car and told her mother, “I’m walking home.”
By the time Ivanka Oka was able to pull over, she had lost sight of her daughter and called the police, who arrived and soon found Emi Oka not far away, on the side of the main highway, apparently intending to walk the 12 miles to her home in Kalaheo.
Police understood the concern, but legally their hands were tied. Emi Oka wasn’t breaking any laws or posing a public safety risk so she couldn’t be restrained or forced to get in the car with her mother. Ivanka Oka was left with no choice but to watch as her daughter ambled down the side of the busy highway.
She followed Emi Oka, going as slowly as possible, but the flow of traffic pushed her ahead, and she soon outpaced her daughter, losing sight of Emi Oka once again after making a U-turn at Kauai Community College.
Ivanka Oka searched up and down the road and in a shopping center parking lot. Eventually, she drove nearly the entire route to her house, stopping at the Lawai 7-Eleven, where she knew her daughter often went to buy cigarettes.
After two-and-a-half hours of frantic searching, she found Emi Oka once again walking down the highway, somewhere between the Kauai Humane Society and Kauai Nursery &Landscaping.
“She had blisters on her feet — huge blisters,” Ivanka Oka said. “Some of them were bleeding, but she walked like there was nothing wrong.”
Oka convinced her daughter to get in the car. They drove home, made dinner and settled into their evening routine, but Oka said her daughter wouldn’t eat, instead, “just pushing food around with the fork.”
Emi Oka’s mental health condition started getting worse about a month or two ago. Ivanka Oka said her daughter suffers from short-term memory loss, frequently coming downstairs from her room to look in the fridge, “but she can’t remember what she came down for.”
Ivanka Oka explained that when her daughter’s mind is in a psychotic state, she doesn’t understand the world around her, seeing and hearing things that aren’t real to anyone but herself.
“She’s in her own world,” Oka said.
After Oka and her husband finished dinner, they sat down to watch TV in the living room. Emi Oka went up to her room. A couple hours passed. Then Ivanka Oka looked up to see her daughter standing at her side, looking at her quietly.
Ivanka Oka remembers the last words she spoke to her daughter, one week ago tonight: “She looked at my face, and she said, ‘I love you mama.’ And I said, ‘I love you too.’”
Emi Oka then walked outside to the back porch, one of her favorite spots. She often spent all night on the deck, smoking cigarettes in the open air. Ivanka Oka checked on her before going to bed around 10:30 p.m. She was fast asleep.
The house was quiet for five hours. At 3:30 a.m. Ivanka Oka sat up wide awake.
“I just woke up — didn’t hear anything,” she said. “I just had this feeling. I felt Emi, and I went looking for her.”
She drove down their neighborhood streets and drove the half-mile to Waha Park where Emi Oka would often visit on her daily walks. She even stopped by the 7-Eleven, hoping her daughter just needed a pack of cigarettes. Nothing.
Two hours passed. Oka called the police.
“I was kind of panicking,” Ivanka Oka said. “I was feeling really scared.”
Detective Barry DeBlake, who has been assigned to the case, said he got the call about Emi Oka around 6:30 a.m. and immediately began coordinating search efforts.
Police officers walked the area around the Oka’s home and talked to neighbors. They checked hospitals and inquired with the county’s transportation agency to see if any bus drivers had seen her. K-9 units were dispatched and tracked Emi Oka as far as Waha Park but couldn’t tell whether the scent was recent or just lingering from a previous visit.
They got permission from Kauai Coffee Company to fly helicopters over the plantation, thinking Oka may have become lost among the thousands of acres of coffee trees.
“We had no leads whatsoever,” DeBlake said.
Friday afternoon, police got a call from a man who saw a county press release announcing Oka’s disappearance in The Garden Island. He lives across the street from Waha Park and said his next-door neighbor had seen a barefoot woman in a dress walking by, who “looked like she was in a daze.”
Another report of a possible sighting came over the weekend. Some people waiting at a bus stop near Koloa School said they saw a woman matching Oka’s description walking by about 10 Saturday night. Someone else called to say they may have seen her walking near Koloa Park.
Neither tip turned up anything new.
Contrades thanked all involved in the search.
“We are also very grateful for our community, and those who provided information which ultimately led to today’s successful outcome,” he said.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.