CHILDREN KEPT SAFE
Staff, police keep
First-graders visiting the Hawaii Nature
Center wait for hours, then walk
a 'treacherous' trail to safety
MORE COVERAGEBy Crystal Kua
SIX-YEAR-OLD Taylor Respicio finished eating a snack and drinking her juice in the Iliahi Elementary School cafeteria yesterday afternoon -- and then wanted to know what all the fuss was about.
"Why are you crying?" she asked her mother, Janell, who was sitting next to her, a bit teary-eyed and shaken.
"I'm very relieved. It was scary," her mother said.
What started off as a field trip for Taylor and 38 other Iliahi first-graders to study the island's environment at the Hawaii Nature Center in Makiki ended with them being secured in a small room for several hours and then taking what was described as a "treacherous" trail hike to lead them to safety and away from the "bad person" on the center grounds. No one was hurt.
"I'm just very proud of our children and our school," said Rachel Kim, one of two first-grade teachers who, along with parent chaperones, accompanied the children on the field trip.
Kim said she didn't fill the children in on all the gory details of the day -- but what she did tell them apparently stayed with them.
"There was a bad person and we had to stay inside," said Daniel Dangaran, 5, wearing a paper headband he decorated with pictures he drew of a sun, grass and the water. Daniel said he made the headband during the long wait within the center.
The Iliahi group was hustled into a small room soon after their arrival at the nature center grounds, and they stayed there for hours doing activities such as crafts.
"The children weren't really scared," Kim said. "They cooperated so well."
Kim credited the nature center's staff and Honolulu police for keeping the children calm. "They went out of their way."
Police made sure the children were well protected, and made arrangements so one of the children, a diabetic, could get necessary insulin. One officer even piggybacked a child who had difficulty walking the trail, school officials said.
Kim said the trail they took was "pretty treacherous" in places, so much so that rope was sometimes put up so they would have something to hold on to while climbing.
Police vans were waiting for the students at the end of the trail. The vans whisked them to the First Presbyterian Church on Nehoa Street, where their bus and refreshments were waiting.
Principal Jane Serikaku said the school was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from staff, teachers, students, parents and members of the island community.
"It's just been lovely," Serikaku said. "I'm so touched by it."
The cafeteria staff made juice, cookies and other refreshments for those who went on the field trip and for those who were waiting for the bus to return.
The bus arrived on campus just before 4 p.m.
As the bus circled the Iliahi parking lot, it was met with cheers, applause and waving hands from a sea of bystanders wearing school shirts of blue and gold.
But once the tired-looking students disembarked, the reunions between parent and child were quieter and more subdued.
Like most people there, one father, Ervin Hendrix, said he kept up with the day's events on television, so he knew the children were safe. "We weren't too concerned."
Janell Respicio said the school did a good job in notifying parents about the situation. "I'm shaken but the school did really well."
Earlier in the day, 58 students and 15 chaperones from Hickam Elementary were taken out of the nature center safely. The Hickam group had been exploring trails when the police standoff began.