Rash of bullying, violence at Hilo Intermediate spurs community to ‘Settle The Score’
March 11, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
What would you do if your eighth-grade daughter had a knife brandished at her and her cousin during recess by a 14-year-old boy? What if your seventh-grade daughter’s friend, scared for your child’s life, said they heard she and a handful of other keiki were targets of a planned school shooting?
Casey-Leigh Sabate-Hauanio and Brandy Fontes don’t have to ask. They know. It was their daughters who were involved in each of those incidents.
Their first action was to contact police. On Friday, they acted again — this time getting the public involved.
Sabate-Hauanio organized and led the “Settle The Score” rally and sign-waving event. The goal: raise awareness about the recent rash of violence and bullying her and Fontes’ daughters experienced at Hilo Intermediate School — and to open people’s eyes to the hard reality that keiki everywhere face the same kind of injustice.
It also was meant to further the conversation about how the community can come together to make Big Island schools and those beyond its shores safer.
“If it can happen to my child, it can happen to anybody else’s kids,” Sabate-Hauanio said before the rally began near the King Kamehameha statue and along Kamehameha Avenue in Downtown Hilo. “My main goal is safety for all kids in all schools.”
About 70 people, young and old, gathered on both sides of the busy highway, waving signs with messages that included “Bring Aloha Back,” “Do Better,” “A’ole Bullying,” “Aloha Always In All Ways,” “Violence Is Not The Jesus Way,” “Speak Up! End Bullying Now!” and “Gangs Are Not Welcome Here!”
The honking of support by passing cars got so loud at times it was hard to hear people speak.
“Sometimes you gotta make big noise,” said Kia Fontes, Brandy’s sister.
After Sabate-Hauanio wrote on social media about the incident involving her daughter, 100 parents or so reached out to her with stories of their own. She heard from parents from Hilo, Pāhoa, Kealakehe and several other Big Island communities, as well as from O‘ahu and Maui.
While Sabate-Hauanio spoke out, often bullied and violently threatened children and their parents do not. Much of the time it’s because keiki aren’t comfortable telling their parents.
Brandy Fontes hopes events like Friday’s rally will help start those conversations between parents and their children: “My children look at me as the adult, as the leader. I want to be the parent that stood up and made their voices heard.”
Brandy Fontes said keiki need to know it’s OK to speak up. It’s OK to be scared. The more parents know what’s happening, the better they can determine how to remedy or diffuse the situations in which their children find themselves.
Friday’s rally also was to show keiki that their parents and community are behind them 100 percent and can “come together as an ‘ohana to find a solution.”
“It’s about love. We gotta bring love back in our community,” said JoBette Nabarro, owner of Eve & Eve in Hilo, which provided the maroon “Bring Aloha Back” shirts that many wore at the rally.
Nabarro closed her business Friday afternoon to wave a “Protect Our Keiki” sign at the rally, saying: “Some things are more important than money.”
Sabate-Hauanio’s sister, Leinani Sabate, was bullied in school and said not much was done about it. To see her niece go through it, at the hands of a member of the so-called “Score Gang,” a group of teens allegedly behind the recent rash of violence, it hurt. She said it’s time to take the issue more seriously.
“Violence is never the answer,” Sabate said, adding action needs to be taken to give those youth perpetrating the violence and bullying a way to change their mind set. They need more constructive activities so they can get out of the cycle of violence and know “you can be better, too.”
Kia Fontes said it’s time for a legitimate youth center on the island, where keiki can get actual guidance, mentorship and other support they might be missing at home — a place where they can have positivity.
Brandy Fontes said it’s different now than when she and her sister were in school, when children would iron out their differences and later become friends. Now, they’re being stabbed, mobbed or threatened to the point they might take their own lives.
Friday’s “Settle The Score” rally and sign-waving event. Photos: Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now.
There are also negative outcomes for the people doing the bullying or worse. The 14-year-old boy who brandished a knife with a blade about 4 to 5 inches long at Sabate-Hauanio’s daughter and her cousin now has a police record after he was arrested for terroristic threatening. He was later released to his parents and Big Island police continue to investigate.
If the goal is to stop the violence, solutions are needed and to find them Brandy Fontes said people need to ask: “How can we help each other?” Friday’s rally was a starting point. Hawai‘i County officials and law enforcement are listening.
“Protecting our keiki and ensuring that they can feel safe and secure in their home, at school and on our island is of the utmost importance to our administration,” Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth said. “We will continue to search for ways to improve safety as a whole throughout our community, and mahalo those who continue to choose aloha.”
The Hawai‘i Police Department hired a new resource officer at Hilo Intermediate after the previous officer was promoted, leaving the position vacant.
“Our [student resource officers] provide guidance to students on ethical issues, mentor students and act as a resource with respect to delinquency prevention,” said Denise Laitinen, public relations specialist for the Police Department. “By working collaboratively with [Hawai‘i] Department of Education officials, parents and community members, we can all do our part to provide a positive, safer environment for our kids and our community.”
There are eight resource officers assigned to schools islandwide that are part of the department’s Community Policing program, which maintains constant communication with community and neighborhood organizations and business leaders to address criminal, traffic and safety issues.
The department also is amplifying its student outreach after the recent reports of violence.
Starting this week, a police officer was also sent to work at Hilo Intermediate full-time for the remainder of the school year and will work to ensure a dedicated resource officer will be assigned to the school starting this fall.
Community Policing officers were sent to the school’s campus this week as well to talk to students and share a “Choose Aloha” presentation. Parents and community members also have been engaged.
“We commend the parents who had the courage to bring this to our attention and Chief [Ben] Moskowitz for his willingness to work quickly to address some of the issues,” Roth said.
Councilwoman Jenn Kagiwada, who represents the area that includes Hilo Intermediate and Downtown Hilo on the Hawai‘i County Council, participated in Friday’s rally and said while she’s not sure why the recent rash of violence is happening, it tells her there are some puka that need to be filled so keiki don’t slip through the cracks, whether that’s because of mental health issues, food insecurity or a number of other circumstances that can affect their lives.
Her kids went to Hilo Intermediate and she wanted to lend her support knowing if violence and bullying are happening in Hilo, “I’m sure it’s happening at other places around the island.”
The number of people who turned out Friday is proof that answers can be found when a community comes together, especially for keiki.
“Everyone who’s here shows that we are putting kids first,” Sabate-Hauanio said.