By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Iris Hiramoto, above left, cries as she sees graffiti
covering plaques at Punchbowl cemetery, including her parents' plaques.
Linnsey Miller places flowers on her grandfather's plaque.

[Excessive language has been electronically blurred.]



Punchbowl cleanup
will be slow and hard

Officials vow to catch the culprits
who defaced graves at Oahu cemeteries

By Gregg K. Kakesako and Linda Aragon
Star-Bulletin

Maintenance crews in just a day removed spray-painted obscenities that defaced graves at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.

"All the graffiti has been removed," said cemetery operations manager William Rodgers, noting the cost to clean the cemetery was about $60.

However, Gene Castagnetti, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific director, said this morning that it will be awhile before he can move forward with the massive cleanup effort at Punchbowl, where hundreds of graves and memorials were desecrated.

The vandalized areas have been reopened to the public now that police and the FBI have finished gathering evidence, Castagnetti said, "to give the next of kin the opportunity to inspect the damage."

Law enforcement officials still have no suspects or motives in the vandalism at Punchbowl, Valley of the Temples, Hawaiian Memorial Park, Oahu Cemetery, Nuuanu Memorial Park and Honolulu Memorial Park. But Police Chief Michael Nakamura maintains that the crimes will be solved.

Since the vandalism occurred this weekend, Castagnetti said, his office has been "inundated with calls from volunteers" offering their aid.


By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Wesley Lum and his daughter, Mahealani, 9, help clean the mess.
Lum wanted her to see this so she would never do such a thing.



"But we are moving diligently and cautiously," Castagnetti said, since there also is the need to protect the volunteers from the caustic cleaning materials.

"We know we will need rubber gloves, masks and other protective equipment."

Castagnetti planned to meet with stone and marble experts today to determine what type of cleaning products should be used. "I am working with six different surfaces."

He also has written to the marble quarry in Italy for advice.

Castagnetti said he hopes to have most of the graffiti removed from the chapel by Friday, when the Australian-New Zealand Anzac memorial service will be held.

The annual service, which is attended by ambassadors from both countries, is held to honor the Battle of Gallipoli in World War I and other wars.

Using premoistened paint-removal wipes bought at an auto parts store, the crews cleaned up the anti-police and hate messages that desecrated 60 headstones at the Kaneohe cemetery.

However, Capt. Chuck Anthony, state Department of Defense spokesman, said it will take another day or so to remove the graffiti from the walls of the cemetery's columbarium.

"It still needs more work."

Spray-painted messages such as, "Hate your guts Hawaii. You Make Me Sick" despoiled monument walls bearing names of missing or lost armed forces members in the Garden of the Missing and about 50 ground grave markers at Punchbowl.

Gov. Ben Cayetano branded the culprits "sick people."

His comments came after he toured the damage at Punchbowl and the Hawaii Veterans Cemetery.

"I know that they will be caught," Cayetano said. "This is too big an operation to not have left any footprints or traces."

He pledged to mobilize public and private help to clean up the desecrated cemeteries.

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown yesterday dispatched a high-level official from the agency's Security and Law Enforcement Service to assist local authorities in the investigation of the Punchbowl desecration.

"This was a cowardly and outrageous attack on the dignity and honor of every brave man and woman who has served in our nation's armed forces.

"We will work with local, state and federal authorities, assisting them to apprehend the criminals and to prosecute them to the absolute maximum extent of the law," said Brown.

In a floor speech, state Sen. Randy Iwase (D, Mililani) decried the vandalism as a symptom of "a cancer in our society" and called for passage of a "hate crimes" bill during the next legislative session.

Cayetano said he will find money to help with the cleanup. And if the state can help with the cleanup at the private cemeteries, it will, he added.

Valley of the Temples had a late afternoon discovery of vandalism Sunday when families visiting the graves of relatives stumbled upon about 50 ground grave markers that were spray-painted with the same obscenities found at other cemeteries, said Administrator Pat Kamakana.

Police were still baffled by the crimes, which occurred on the anniversaries of the Waco, Texas, siege with David Koresh and the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.

"We're looking at a wide range of possibilities," said police Capt. Doug Miller. "We certainly don't have anyone to zero in on."


By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Gov. Ben Cayetano tours the Punchbowl cemetery vandalized
by graffiti, accompanied by, from left, Given Miyamoto,
Maj. Gen. Edward Richardson and Gene Castagnetti.

[Excessive language has been electronically blurred.]



Police have joined efforts with the FBI to make up a profile of the suspect. Police said they are trying to pinpoint the suspect's age and ethnicity. "We think it was someone with a message," Miller said.

Police detective Gary Winterbottom said today police are looking into many different angles to this case, but still have no suspects. The FBI may be looking into some federal cases of hate crime.

Part of the police investigation will include taking samples of the paint to determine the manufacturer and find out what vendors in the area sell it, Miller said.

The fact that seven sites were targeted in a short time suggested that the plan was well-orchestrated, Miller said.

Messages calling the police department racist and saying it ignores hate crimes give the police a lead in their investigation, said Police Chief Nakamura.

"It gives us a point to start out. It gives us a chance to see who we've come into contact with that may not have been satisfied," Nakamura said. "I'm willing to stick my neck out to say it's going to be solved," he said.

Miller said police have been reviewing old reports of people who have had gripes with police. He said they are also looking at correspondence police have received with the same or similar misspellings found in the graffiti.

While police are pursuing the criminal property damage case, FBI special agent John Schiman said the offenders could face federal charges of destruction of federal property, damage to the flag, which was slashed with red paint, damage to religious property, hate crimes under civil rights, and if any violence surfaces, the suspects could face terrorism charges. He said the penalty could run from five to 20 years in prison.



Star-Bulletin reporters Mike Yuen, Debra Barayuga,
Alan Matsuoka and Jim Witty contributed to this report.

Malicious vandalism
horrifying to relatives

By Linda Aragon
Star-Bulletin

Masato Muraoka arrived at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific carrying flowers for his deceased wife, but was kept out by yellow crime scene tape, FBI agents and police.

"I can't go in? I can't go in?" he asked guards, while standing several feet away from his wife's marker, unable to get closer for his weekly visit.

"I wanted to check it out, to see if hers (was marred by vandals)," Muraoka said, later noting he understood why police would not let him closer. "Otherwise they cannot get evidence."

Security guard Chris Villanueva, 19, came to Muraoka's assistance, delivering the flowers as Masato called out directions to his wife's marker, which was among the dozens on the wall with niches for urns containing ashes.

William Reed, son of a World War II, Vietnam and Korean war veteran, was at Punchbowl and said he had a hard time sleeping after watching the news. "My stomach was upset when I saw it on TV," he said.

Reed said he knew he had to check if his father's grave had been one of hundreds vandalized.

His father, who has been buried at Punchbowl for 12 years, had a red line running across his marker. "I've got to call my sister and let her know that he got tagged," Reed said, adding that he also has to break the news to his mother.

"It's terrible. What a thing to do," said Alma Hashi, 81, who was exposed to the expletive language as she waited for the funeral of a her husband's World War II 442nd Infantry Battalion buddy to begin. "All the scratch and the paint, it's a shameful thing they do," she said.

Yvonne Lancaster read about the Punchbowl vandalism. Her husband, a World War II veteran, and her son, who died on Air Force active duty, are buried there.

Lancaster called the graffiti act "inconceivable" and asked: "Why a cemetery?" She answered herself. "Because it's people who can't fight back. You feel so hopeless," she said.

Punchbowl cemetery director Gene Castagnetti said William Harper, the Department of Veterans Affairs security chief, is planning to be in Hawaii today to assess the damage, already estimated at $20,000 to $25,000.

Castagnetti said the visit may mean changes to Punchbowl's security.

Castagnetti said the gates are locked after 6:30 p.m., but people can find ways to walk into the cemetery.

Reward

$10,000 from Mayor Jeremy Harris for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for the weekend vandalism at island cemeteries.
$10,000 Bank of Hawaii fund for cleanup and apprehension efforts, with $5,000 of that offered for a reward. Bank branches are accepting donations for the cleanup. Make checks payable to "Bancorp Charitable Foundation" and note on the check that the donation is for cemetery cleanup efforts.
Call: 955-8300 CrimeStoppers, 523-4141 the mayor's office



Cleanup duty

Punchbowl: Call 566-1430 and leave you name and telephone so someone can call you with the cleanup date.
State: Call 587-3000 at the state Office of Veteran Services




Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Community]
[Info] [Letter to Editor] [Stylebook] [Feedback]



© 1997 Honolulu Star-Bulletin
http://starbulletin.com