DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A memorial for Masumi Watanabe, missing for one year and presumed dead, was held yesterday at Kawaiahao Church. Among the attendees were Watanabe's brothers Ryo, left, and Kenya Watanabe; parents Hideichi and Fumiko Watanabe; and translator Mieko Crans.
Embraced by love
250 attend memorial for missing visitor
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The pews were filled yesterday at Kawaiahao Church for a memorial service held on the one-year anniversary of the day a 21-year-old Japanese visitor went missing.
Many of those attending knew Masumi Watanabe only after her presumed death and said they showed up to show support for her family.
Some were involved in the search for her body or the prosecution of her accused murderer Kirk Lankford.
Even Lankford's father showed up briefly.
Watanabe's father, Hideichi, said after the ceremony that he was touched and surprised at the outpouring of support her daughter has received.
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
About 250 people attended a memorial service at Kawaiahao Church yesterday on the one-year anniversary of Masumi Watanabe's disappearance. A picture of Watanabe was in front of the church.
With "sadness and regret," the father of a missing Japanese woman held up a thousand origami paper cranes his best friend had started folding in hopes of her safe return.
But Masumi Watanabe was never found, and other people finished folding the cranes.
Yesterday, on the one-year anniversary of 21-year-old woman's disappearance, about 250 people attended a memorial service at Kawaiahao Church.
The service comes as a Circuit Court jury is deliberating the fate of Kirk Lankford, 23, the man accused of murdering her.
Masumi's father, Hideichi Watanabe, recalled in his eulogy how his best friend started folding cranes and stringing them together for Masumi's return. Watanabe's friend died four months later at age 50.
"During this short period, I lost two of the most important people in my life," he said between long pauses. "I feel such sadness and regret."
"They're so far away from home and they're going through a difficult time," said Kaneohe resident Ethel Okinaka, who attended the service. "I didn't want them to feel alone."
The Rev. Curt Kekuna called yesterday's service a "remembrance, a celebration" of Masumi's life. Mayor Mufi Hannemann said Hawaii would never forget her.
"(The memorial) is a way for us to continue the healing process," he said to the church.
Watanabe said his daughter's 21-year life comes to him as a flashback, bringing back memories of their trip to Mount Fuji, Disneyland and a ski trip.
"We wish we could have done many things with her in Hawaii," he said. "However, today we meet with warm and thoughtful people in Hawaii like Rev. Kukuna and everyone here, surrounded by the beautiful flowers of Hawaii. I am certain Masumi rests in peace with God now."
Masumi's parents Hideichi and Fumiko Watanabe, and brothers Kenya and Ryo Watanabe, were at the service.
Others in the audience included police Maj. Craig Nishimura, head of the criminal investigation division and city Prosecuting Attorney Peter Carlisle.
"I'm glad that the family came back," Carlisle said. "It's hard for me to get it out of my mind how tragic this whole situation is. But this was a good thing."
The jury resumes deliberations tomorrow in the murder case, and Carlisle said he could not comment on the trial.
Kirk Lankford's father also appeared briefly and declined comment.
In testimony during the murder trial, Kirk Lankford claimed he accidentally hit Watanabe with his truck and offered her a ride home.
While en route, Masumi jumped out of the truck and hit her head on a rock, killing her, Lankford testified. Fearing for his job, he said he tried to hide the body and eventually put her body out to sea.
Her body has never been found.
Prosecutors alleged Masumi's death was not an accident and that Lankford murdered her and dumped her body.
The service was organized by mortgage broker Bob Iinuma, who has been helping the family in Hawaii. Iinuma also started the Web site Findmasumi.org.
"The people coming here, they don't know the Watanabes," he said. "It's their love or their sadness for the family."