Arrest shocks neighbors and family
They call the suspect in the Watanabe case friendly and religious
Kalihi neighbors and the family of the man arrested in the apparent murder of a Japanese visitor say he is a friendly, churchgoing family man.
That's why it stunned Jackie Badua when police detectives arrived this week to investigate and arrest her neighbor Kirk Lankford, 22.
"I was pretty shocked when the police came down, because we don't think he could do it," said Badua, who lives next to Lankford's house on Hani Lane in Kalihi. "He's a loving husband and father, and they have another baby coming."
Lankford was arrested Thursday afternoon after a two-week search and investigation into 21-year-old Masumi Watanabe's disappearance.
Although investigators have yet to find a body, police feel confident with the forensic evidence that they obtained to arrest and charge Lankford with second-degree murder.
As of late last night, police had not charged him. They have until 5 p.m. today to charge Lankford, or they must release him.
Police seized his pickup truck in connection with the case, and the case went from a missing-person case to a murder investigation days later.
"He's not a killer," Lankford's father, Howard Lewis Lankford, told KITV in a phone interview from Colorado Springs, Colo. "He's way, way on the other end of the spectrum. He'd give you everything he had before he'd do anything to you."
Despite reports of Watanabe's glasses and blood being found in the truck, Capt. Frank Fujii said the department will not release details of the evidence they found. He said he did not want the case to be tried in the media before charges were brought.
Lankford was a technician at Hauoli Pest Control since 2003 but was fired sometime after Watanabe was reported missing. Company officials declined to comment further.
"We join with the rest of the community in offering our thoughts and prayers to the friends and family of Masumi Watanabe, and we will continue to cooperate fully with authorities in this investigation," said a statement from the company.
Watanabe's parents are in Hawaii and have requested privacy, said Makoto Hinei, senior consul general of the Consulate General of Japan. "They are grieving after the news, and it is a terrible tragedy," Hinei said.
He added the office is not concerned that this case will add to a negative perception of Hawaii in Japan, because it is such a rare incident. The case has caught the attention of Japanese media.
One of Lankford's neighbors, who asked not to be identified, said Lankford owns his Hani Lane home and rents to a tenant in the house. He purchased and moved into the home in November 2005, the neighbor said.
"The family seems to think the police don't have hard evidence against him," said the neighbor, who spoke with Lankford's wife after the arrest. "I'm hoping he is falsely accused so he can come back and take care of his family."
Badua said she and her husband and 1-year-old son attended church with Lankford and his family about four times. They attend the Potter's House Christian Fellowship Church.
"He leads the prayers in church," said Badua, who has lived on the street for 10 years. She said Lankford often invited people over for Bible studies.
Badua said police investigators visited Lankford at his home on Saturday. After Lankford went with police, Badua said, he told her they tested him for DNA evidence.
"He apologized to the neighbors for the scene because it was unexpected," Badua said. "Yesterday it was a shock because we saw a lot of cop cars."
Badua said police did not interview her or other neighbors. The neighbors described him as shy but friendly. "I hope it turns out that he's not guilty," she said. "We don't see him as that kind of person."