Woman denies
abusing Puna girl

She says the 10-year-old
entrusted to her care
would hurt herself

HILO » A Big Island woman, who was entrusted with a friend's 10-year-old daughter before extensive wounds put the girl in the hospital, said the girl deliberately turned minor injuries into major ones to get attention.

Hyacinth "Hya" Poouahi also said the girl, Alexis, has a history of two suicide attempts and two behavioral disorders.

Poouahi said she treated the girl's injuries, but beginning Feb. 3, an apparent infection developed rapidly.

Police said previously that the girl's caretakers, Poouahi and her husband, who live in the Ainaloa subdivision in Puna, called Fire Department paramedics on Feb. 7. Poouahi confirmed that yesterday.

Police have said that child abuse is involved and have classified the case as endangering the welfare of a child. The girl remains in extremely critical condition at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

Police have not released the girl's name or details about the investigation. A neighbor told the Star-Bulletin on Wednesday that the girl was routinely hit by members of the family with whom she stayed.

Repeatedly choking back tears as she spoke to the Star-Bulletin in a telephone interview yesterday, Poouahi denied that she or her husband abused Alexis.

"All I tried to do was love this child. I would never hurt any child. I have five children. I would die for my children," she said.

She said she was really hurt when state child welfare workers took away her 2-day-old grandson and four minor children. Those children remain in foster custody.

On Feb. 7, when paramedics arrived at Poouahi's home, they found Alexis with sores that police described as "festering."

Alexis had a cut on her head, puncture wounds in her checks, eyes swollen shut, a three-quarter-inch piece of her upper lip missing and other injuries on her body, according to paramedic Kendall Ueda, who treated her.

Poouahi confirmed that the injuries were significant. A sore on one of her legs was the size of a fist, she said.

At one point another was "gushing" blood, she said. Alexis found scratches and then "gouged" them to get attention, she said. Poouahi put antibiotic on the injuries, she said.

Poouahi said Alexis told her that she bit off part of her upper lip because "it was in the way." Poouahi said she answered that the lip was not in the way. "God gave us lips," she said she told the child.

Poouahi's involvement with Alexis began three years ago when Alexis' mother, Crystal Yamamoto, started leaving the child with her to baby-sit.

In November, Yamamoto dropped Alexis off, as she had done before, but never came back to pick her up, Poouahi said.

"All she told me was, 'This kid is driving me crazy,'" Poouahi said.

According to Poouahi, Alexis "said she didn't like Crystal because Crystal hit her."

Poouahi said she knew about the child's two suicide attempts from her years of baby-sitting Alexis. She said she saw scars from apparent slash marks on the child's wrists.

She also said Alexis had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. But Yamamoto did not give her the girl's medicines for those disorders, Poouahi said.

During the three months when Alexis was with Poouahi's family, Yamamoto gave a total of only $100 for her care, Poouahi said.

Neighbor Porsche Miller had said Poouahi's children, and sometimes her husband, would hit Alexis.

Poouahi denied her husband hit the child, adding that Alexis "didn't want any of my children around or my husband." But, she said, Alexis wanted Poouahi as her mother.

Alexis often snuck away from the house, Poouahi said. Sometimes she took a blanket and stayed in a plastic doghouse, later confiscated by police.

According to Poouahi, the girl crawled into a lava tube cave with a narrow entrance on neighboring property, then came back with injuries that looked like insect bites.

Poouahi said she used antibacterial soap to clean them and directed a fan at them to dry them, but the injuries worsened rapidly until Poouahi and her husband called 911 for help.

Police Capt. Chad Fukui declined to comment on the investigation, leaving no way to check parts of Poouahi's account.

Some parts conflicted with previous statements by other observers.

Poouahi said Alexis told paramedics, "I did it to myself." But paramedic Ueda told the Star-Bulletin on Wednesday that Alexis was moaning and unable to talk.

Poouahi said she followed the ambulance with Alexis to Hilo Hospital and stayed until 1:30 a.m. A neighbor said no one followed the ambulance.

Poouahi played a telephone message in which Yamamoto asked for information about the lava cave because police were going to question her. Then Yamamoto said in the message: "I know you guys didn't do anything wrong. I love you guys."

Contacted by the Star-Bulletin, Yamamoto said she would make no comment. But, she added: "You guys shouldn't even be reporting this. It's not final."

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