Weather Conditions Make Search Difficult for Missing 6-year-old Boy

December 21, 2019, 3:46 PM HST (Updated December 21, 2019, 3:58 PM)
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Benny Rapoza (PC: Tabitha Marcelo)

It’s been 24 hours since the disappearance of 6-year-old Benny Rapoza. The boy was last seen at a shoreline residence in the Keaukaha area on the 2100 block of Kalanianaole Avenue.

Benny is diagnosed with nonverbal autism and needs immediate care. Despite the urgency to find him, Hawai‘i County police say his disappearance doesn’t qualify for an Amber Alert to be activated.

Police, Hawai‘i County Fire, the US Coast Guard as well as a tracking dog have been looking for Benny. A large response from the community has also come out to search for the 6-year-old.

With a high wind warning and high surf advisory, conditions have made the search difficult. According to Hawai‘i County Police Chief Samuel Thomas there has been on and off rain, occasional wind gusts and strong surf along the shoreline.

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As of 3:30 p.m. today, police say conditions seem to have worsened with wind and surf picking up. Assistant Chief Robert Wagner said since the best time to search is daytime officers will probably do limited searching after dark today and kick back up in the morning.

“They are as of right now scheduled to be there until tomorrow at 6 p.m. at which time they will reassess,” Wagner said.

Hawai‘i County Fire Department Battalion Chief Matthias Kusch said they had a boat and divers in the water earlier this morning but both were pulled out due to “chaotic water conditions.”

Crew from chopper 1 have been flying up down the shoreline. Kusch said the helicopter will stay airborne until later this afternoon.

While firefighters have focused their efforts on an aerial search, Kusch said, the ground teams have had their challenges, searching through overgrowth and areas littered with alkaline ponds.

Benny’s sister Tabitha Marcelo has been out all night and day searching for her brother.

“We need him back home,” she said. “He must be so scared out there!”

Benny is described as Caucasian, 3-feet tall, 50 pounds with brown eyes and short brown hair, thin build and having a fair complexion. He was last seen bareback and wearing a diaper.

Marcelo suggests to anyone assisting in the search to play the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song.

“He loves SpongeBob with a passion,” she said. “I’ve been playing it all night.”

If you spot Benny, call 911.

Anyone with information on the child’s whereabouts is also asked to call Detective BJ Sagon at 808-961-8883 or email [email protected]

More updates on this story will be posted as soon as they become available.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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