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Woman Pleads for Return of Stolen Urn Holding Brother’s Remains

June 6, 2020, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated June 6, 8:10 AM
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Rachel Velez holds urn with brother’s remains with her niece. (PC: Rachel Velez)

It’s been almost two years since Rachel Velez lost her brother after he was shot and killed on Painted Church Road while picking mangoes.

Velez and her family felt the loss of Thomas Ballesteros Jr. again after an urn holding his ashes was discovered stolen from his daughter’s home in Kurtistown on Thursday.

“I don’t know what compelled them to take such an item,” Velez said Friday. “I don’t know what they plan to do with it but we just want it back because that’s the only thing we have left of him, besides our memories.”

A couple of months ago, Velez’s niece said her home was burglarized where water and toilet paper were stolen. When the home was broken into this week, Velez said, toilet paper and water were again taken, but this time they took the urn holding Ballesteros’ ashes and the koa nameplate.

Ballesteros’ remains were contained in a koa box with a Kamaka ukulele mounted on top of it. Built by Velez’s brother, the urn was not just container housing Ballesteros’ ashes, but a memorial as he loved to play the ukulele.

Thomas Ballesteros Jr.

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Velez thinks it would be hard to mistake the urn, as whoever took it had to remove lei that were draped on the ukulele.

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Hawai‘i Police Department’s Puna Patrol Lt. Allen Watanabe confirmed a report for burglary was taken at the Kurtistown home. While stealing an urn is uncommon, the lieutenant said, it has happened before.

“Some containers used to hold ashes could be expensive,” he said.

Overall, Watanabe agreed the theft was weird.

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Ballesteros was murdered by Brian Lee Smith, who was convicted of second-degree murder and the included offense of first-degree reckless endangerment in relation to the assault on Nikolaus Slavik, who was with the 42-year-old when he got shot. Smith is now serving life in prison with a minimum of 40 years served before requesting a parole hearing.

“It’s been a long time coming for him to get justice, and now he’s gone again,” Velez said. “We don’t know why someone would take an urn.”

Anyone with information regarding the burglary should contact Hawai‘i Police Department at 808-935-3311. Velez also welcomes people to contact her on Facebook.

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