Missing woman found safe in ravine

  • Courtesy Ivanka Oka

    Emi Oka wears the same dress that she was seen in when she went missing.

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 cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

13 Comments
  1. ruthann jones February 7, 2019 7:40 am Reply

    now I am convinced the police in Kauai are useless! She was a danger to herself! My heart goes out to her and her family and they are in my prayers. Heads must roll in Kauai PD if this young woman has come to harm.


    1. Elizabeth Cole February 7, 2019 1:04 pm Reply

      Don’t blame the police. Her Dr. should have been called and she should have been hospitalized if she was a danger to herself.


      1. ruthann jones February 7, 2019 8:39 pm Reply

        Are you suggesting her MD should have chased her down the highway? That was duty of police if they were doing their duty, for which we pay taxes!


  2. harry oyama February 7, 2019 7:40 am Reply

    There should be a law that protects anyone who has delusions and a danger to themselves because they are not in the right frame of mind to face reality and in the interest of protecting them, police must be given exceptions to the rule that governs only sane people.

    Now because they did nothing, she is lost for 10 days and counting resulting in a very dangerous situation that could have been resolved when she was walking along the highway with bleeding feet and the risk of being run over by traffic or raped by some criminal. So where is that meaning of “to Serve and Protect”?


  3. Joe Public February 7, 2019 8:30 am Reply

    Heard a faint response but gave up searching after 2 hours? Pretty good work. Guess that the “K-9” is working out as good as the detective.


  4. curious dog February 7, 2019 10:21 am Reply

    “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.”

    Why couldn’t Kaua’i PD pick her up since she was presenting an obvious potential hazard to herself & to others while walking along a busy highway with schizophrenic-related medications on board?

    It is hoped that common sense would dictate that these laws need to be revisited ASAP in order to keep this from happening again. A 51-50 in CA is a 72-hour hold for this exact situation & would have been a very useful tool for KPD if they don’t have it here.

    https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/5150/


  5. DeFake February 7, 2019 1:13 pm Reply

    You have the worst person in recent memory assigned to the case. DeFake is more likely to choke her then help her. He is a brute in uniform.

    He has mental health issues also. It’s the worst case scenario. Kpd cop assigns to help find missing person.

    Breaking news kpd finds missing female with bruises choke marks and beaten beyond recognition but since no one was there or the vehicle left the scene as police arrived there are no suspects and no suspected foul play.

    Kpd releases an unattended death report finalized with the state coroners stamp of approval.

    Have you all read this before? This is what Kauai is dealing with in KPD and it’s current and former leadership.

    There are good cops in kpd but they too are too afraid to speak up against the dirty pigs. Look what happened when the 19 ye old kid got ran over and killed by a cop. The state had a expert witness testify that it didn’t matter if the cop was going 10mph or 25mph, his decision and actions would have been the same and the outcome would be the same.

    YOu all believe that?


  6. Eunice S. February 7, 2019 3:01 pm Reply

    When I read these posts, I feel very sad and concerned as I need to express my gratitude for all the unforeseen work the police on Kauai do. I personally know this officer. I know how he works and the dedication he has offered to us on Kauai. His background in the military and search and rescue presently is unsurpassed. My request is that her family realize the work he truly does and the dedication to our safety is profound. I realize how critical we can be and how hard it is to perceive the good in others. I also understand all of your concerns and disbeliefs, however, in this instance please consider that the utmost time, dedication, and care was involved as possible in this case.


  7. ruthann jones February 7, 2019 5:07 pm Reply

    The first good news in a long time. Blessings to this family.


  8. randy kansas February 7, 2019 5:32 pm Reply

    I married one of those, once

    RK


    1. Eunice S. February 7, 2019 9:11 pm Reply

      So did DeFake. I feel sorry for you both.


  9. Tina Taniguchi February 8, 2019 6:42 am Reply

    Police should have the right to assist parents when person is schizophrenic! This mom is trying to care for her adult daughter who needs help! So many people on our streets have mental issues and no one to care for them. Bless this mom and all she doing!


  10. Ivanka Oka February 12, 2019 5:20 pm Reply

    My sincere thanks to all the people that sprang to action to help my daughter Emi. But I can not thank enough detective Barry DeBlake. From the moment he was informed that Emi went missing, he gathered teams of people he worked with in past and present, his friends and friends of friends, who cared, responded and gave their energy and time to search for someone they knew nothing about but that she needed help. Detective DeBlake did not take his well earned time off untill after Emi was found. He also answerred my calls as late as midnight and kept me informed, kept my hope up when my exhaustion was threatening to get me down. On Supper ball Sunday, he gathered a team to search; even his girlfriend joined them. He called me when they heard response to their call, then kept calling and searching untill it got dark. The wind carried their voices but there was no response. They had to end the search but resumed the next morning. When Emi was rescued, she told me that the only human contact she had was the voice she heard calling her name few days ago. She gathered all her energy to stand up, wave her arms and call back: “Help! I’m over here.” Then: “I can’t stand up any more, I have to lay down.” She passed out, laying in the tall grass. She passed out like that last few weeks; I told her doctors, but they had no answer except for medications they prescribed. There was nothing more anybody could do at that time. The following morning Kauai K9 Search and rescue volunteers went into the same area. My husband Ike joined them and they were actually picked up by car a couple hundred yards from where Emi was rescued. But they could not find her. She said that she mostly slept and moved very little last few days. Thanks God and the ladies who heard her call when she was able to stand up and call for help.
    I also thank all the police officers who responded earlier, as they were all very kind and did what they could within the parameters of the law. I believe it’s the law that must change, so that the officers who signed up to keep the law don’t have to worry about breaking it to help persons in need. As it is now, both doctors and the police have to have the order of the judge to detain a person, but judges often reject the request unless they personally witnessed and described the immediate danger to their satisfaction. I believe, to many mentally ill patients in USA have died and continue to be in danger, because of the application of this law.Thanks again to all the brave officers, neighbors and their family and friends who care and have spent hours and days searching. We are blessed that, if she had to be lost, it happened here, on Kauai, where spirit of Aloha is so true and powerful. As Emi kept praying to Jesus and the Holly father, many prayed in their own religious beliefs and she survived unharmed 8 nights and 7 days in the wild brushes, very nearsighted without her glasses. Thanks God!


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