HONOLULU — An infant's ashes that were stolen from a Hawaii home have been found at a beach and returned to the baby's mother, who thinks their careful positioning on some rock steps shows the burglar felt guilty and wanted to do the right thing.
A woman walking on the beach Thursday found the plastic bag containing the remains of Leimomi Kahele's five-day-old son, who died in 2004, Honolulu police said.
The bag was perched on the bottom step of some stairs leading to the beach. It was protected from waves and nestled near a photo album that also was taken during the break-in at Kahele's home.
"They obviously knew what they did was wrong," Kahele, 25, said Friday. "They put our photo album and his ashes in such a beautiful place. It wasn't just some bushes on the side of the road."
Kahele's house was ransacked during the burglary Wednesday. The urn carrying the ashes was stolen, along with some cash, a DVD player and other belongings. The urn and other items remain missing, and police are still investigating.
Police spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said documents identifying Kahele's infant son, Horace Keliiholokai Kahele III, were found with the ashes.
The woman who discovered them went to the nearby home of a neighbor, Tupu Wheeler, who followed her back to the ashes. "I thought it might be a memorial," Wheeler said. "We were unaware of the magnitude of what we had found."
They looked up the baby's name online and saw news reports about the theft. "I got chills all over my body," Wheeler said. "This mother has lost her baby all over again."
Meanwhile, Kahele and her family were driving all over the North Shore of Oahu Thursday looking for signs of the urn. She got a call later in the afternoon from KHON-TV, which first reported the theft, saying the ashes had been found in Hauula, about 20 miles away.
Kahele saw a picture that the station posted on its Facebook page and immediately recognized the area, near a beach known as Alligator Pond.
"Being from the country, we knew where to go and what beach it was," she said. While driving there with her husband, she got a call from police saying Wheeler had taken the ashes to her home. That's where Kahele was reunited with her son's remains.
"When she handed me that bag, it was a weight lifted off me," Kahele said. "I felt warm inside again."
"She was so shaky," recalled Wheeler, 49, a mother of six. "I just had to hold her and hug her and make her know it was all behind her now."
The ordeal forced Kahele to relive being an 18-year-old first-time mom, going into labor 15 weeks early and making the decision to take her newborn off life support.
"It's heartbreaking when you lose a child," Kahele said. "When I lost him again it was 100 times more devastating."
Now that's she reunited with his remains, she has come up with a new way to store them.
"I used to sleep with his urn, and it was hard and ceramic," Kahele said. She now plans to buy a soft, cuddly teddy bear and sew the bag of ashes inside: "I want to be able to feel like I'm holding him again."