Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Roberta Rodemio holds a picture of Robert Rodemio,
her son who was killed.

youth devoted to
family, learning

Robert Rodemio, 18, the
victim of gang violence,
wanted his family reunited

By Debra Barayuga

ROBERTA Rodemio labored hard at jobs earning little money so she could bring her son to Hawaii for a better life.

In October 1999, Robert Rodemio arrived from the Philippines, fresh and eager to get ahead and make money to bring his brothers and sisters here.

"Teach me more, more, more," he would tell Mila Gavieres, one of several teachers who tutored him during recess at Farrington High School. "He was so determined to forge a new life here but had very limited speaking and writing skills," Gavieres said.

Seven months later, 18-year-old Robert Rodemio went to a birthday party in Ewa for a girl he didn't even know and was fatally shot during a confrontation between members of rival gangs.

A jury was expected to resume deliberating today in the trial of Joel Keoni Brunson, charged in the Rodemio slaying in May 2000.

His mother was in the Philippines visiting her four younger children when she received the call from a brother with the news about Robert, her eldest son, named after her.

The teachers and administrators at Farrington High School contributed to his funeral service here. And the Visayan community rallied to raise $4,700 to bring his body home to Davao where he was entombed in a family mausoleum.

Roberta and her husband took off from their jobs and went to court for 28 days of the murder trial, she said, because "I like to know the story of my son."

They await word on the verdict, sitting in a Kalihi studio apartment filled with photos of Robert, on his first birthday back home, holding an infant cousin, grinning widely in a shot taken during his last Christmas alive. Thumbtacked to the kitchen wall are snapshots of him among his siblings in Davao, who wait for the day their parents can afford to bring them to Hawaii.

Roberta Rodemio, 42, arrived here for the first time in 1997 at the urging of a brother who was already living here and who sent her a free plane ticket.

She worked several jobs for the next few years on a vegetable farm, as a cook's helper at a restaurant in Ala Moana Center and as an assistant baker at a Koko Head Avenue bakery. She also spent most of 1998-99 in Alaska, where she grossed $16,000 a year working at a fish cannery -- the most she's ever earned.

She worked, she said, so she could bring her husband and son here and also visit her other children. Robert and his father arrived here in October 1999, leaving the rest of the family with relatives. A month later, Robert enrolled as a ninth-grader at Farrington High School where it seemed to his teachers he soaked up his studies like a sponge.

When his mother took a trip to the Philippines in April 2000 to visit the children, Robert longed to go with her so he could see his sisters and brother again. But he decided to finish the school year.

He made his mother promise she would go to Manila and bring back his birth certificate because he needed to prove to school officials he was under 18 and could continue in the public schools, she said.

He told her often that he wanted to finish high school and earn money so he could help her bring his younger siblings to Hawaii. "I miss my sisters and brother," he would say.

One of his teachers at Farrington was touched by his sincere desire to learn.

He kept a notebook where he would record everything new that he learned, even song lyrics he picked up from classmates.

"He was so happy learning all these things. That's what I miss so much about him. He may never have achieved comparable skills for his age, but certainly for the short time he was here, he learned so much," Gavieres said.

He made some good friends, but a few were linked to gangs. So she would warn him about the dangers of bad associations. He was naive in that he did not believe gang activity here could turn violent, she said.

"Kaya ko, po," he would tell her in his very respectful way, "I can handle, but thank you."

He was so excited when he told her he had a food service job lined up. "He wanted so much to earn a living so he could help his parents," Gavieres said.

Being the oldest child, he was bothered that his parents were away several times during the year, separated from their children in order to work in Alaska. "How can we make a success of this life with us all scattered around," he would ask them.

In his daily journal entries, Rodemio wrote about how hard life was in the Philippines, but how torn he was about leaving his hometown of Davao. "Sometimes there are choices to make," he wrote. "I can't choose Hawaii or Philippines over the other ... I want both. I'm just so happy to be here."

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