Emi Oka has been found alive!

  • Contributed photo

    Kathy Sheffield

Emi has been found!

Sincere thanks to the diligent and persistent field work of Kauai Police Detective Barry DeBlake, his canine team, foot patrol, and air rescue team, Emi Oka was found alive in the fields near Kukuiula in Koloa. Thanks also go out to Fred Cowell of Kauai Coffee for the use of his drones to search the coffee fields. It truly was a collaborative effort.

Caleb Loehrer wrote a beautiful article published in the paper Thursday, over one week since Emi went missing. It is truly a miracle that she was found alive. This is the burden that Ike and Ivanka Oka suffer on a daily basis, along with hundreds of thousands of other families who have a loved one with a mental illness.

I am challenging the island of Kauai to end the silence about mental illness. There is so much stigma around this topic that should not be. Mental illness is a physical disease, just like cancer, diabetes or Parkinson’s. The only difference is that the brain is ill.

I know there are cultural concerns about the shame and guilt of having a family member with mental illness. This disease does not discriminate. If we don’t start talking about treatment and family support of loved ones suffering from mental illness, there will be more statistics of suicide and missing loved ones.

Kudos to the Kauai Police Department. Under the apt direction of Lt. Todd Tanaka, Kauai Police Department has trained 23 crisis intervention officers. They have also trained every recruit class for the past three years in mental health first aid.

There is now a room in the emergency room dedicated to those suffering from a mental illness while they await medical attention. They no longer have to suffer the indignity of of being on a gurney with a police officer standing over them while they wait for treatment.

If you are interested in learning more about mental health education and support, please contact Kathy Sheffield, executive director, NAMI Kauai, 635-3239. She also teaches mental health first aid classes.

As a community, we are making progress in the awareness of mental illness as a disease. There is still a long way to go.

Won’t you please help us spread the message that there is no shame in having a mental illness?


Kathy Sheffield is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Kauai chapter.

  1. MentalHealthConcerns February 8, 2019 8:33 am Reply

    Mental health concerns should be a priority with public health officials. Kauai has lead the state with plastic bag laws, dog barking laws, cat laws, pesticide spraying laws, and so on but now our politicians should address and create a bill that would ensure the safe detainment for mental health patients.

    I am well versed in theses concerns. I have a family member that suffer from the same conditions as Ms. Oka and my heart goes out to her and her family. Kpd rules and refs has to change and council needs to adopt laws to help families and individuals that are suffering from mental health issues.

    I have wished so many times that the suffering of my family member would transfer to me instead and I would be able to handle the issue but I truly do not understand their state of mind and what’s going on emotionally.

    I have empathy for those who suffer from this disease. The friendship house is great for the community but our state employees are overburdened and underfunded. They cannot help the person or community if they do not have the resources.

    I fell that we as a community, island, and state should learn from this incident and address concerns and find solutions that is tailored to these situations.

    Ms. Oka was found but how many are lost? How many suffer? How many have never received help? How many will suffer the same faith? How many does it take to take a serious approach in identifying this concern and come out with a plan of action?

    I don’t believe you all recall the Nola Thompson case and who knows what state of mind she was in but if we have safety concerns and a protocol to follow, I believe the community and island as a whole would have confidence that we are ensured that our public safety officials have the tools necessary to alleviate the lack of a human approach to the negative stereotype of mental health issues.

  2. curious dog February 8, 2019 2:21 pm Reply

    The KPD could do nothing when Emi was walking along the highway, which allowed her to get lost in the first place, because legally their hands were tied. Not to place blame, for certainly Kaua’i’s finest would have much rather have had the tools to provide assistance to Emi & her mother prior to Emi getting lost.

    This is the exact reason that the state of Hawai’i needs to act ASAP to create what CA has….the option to take mentally ill people into custody for their own protection for 72 hours. It’s called a 51-50 & it should have been an option for KPD in this case!

    Please update your SOP’s so that KPD can actually provide assistance when it is obviously needed. It is beyond time to act.

  3. Mary E. Coker January 25, 2020 2:30 pm Reply

    I totally support the efforts of the community to make safe plans for citizens with mental illness of different sorts – it is part of why we need government, just like we need care for preschoolers, elementary and further education, road repair and for our seniors. No one is to blame – it is just a fact of life and needs to be prepared for.

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