Before he was 4 months old, Peter Kema Jr. already had his arms, a leg and three ribs broken. Doctors concluded the fractures were signs of child abuse.
The child, who has become known throughout Hawaii as Peter Boy, was taken into state custody just three months after he was born in 1991. Three years later, a Family Court judge ordered him returned to his parents. Yet, the last time anyone saw him was 1997, when Peter Boy was 6, and the question remains: Where is he?
On Tuesday, the state planned to take the unprecedented action of releasing roughly 2,000 pages of confidential files on the case under a new directive by the state Human Services Department.
“It’s been eight years and there has been no justice for this child,” said Lillian Koller, the agency’s director. “No determination of where the child is. No determination of who’s responsible for the child for being missing. No criminal prosecution. Nothing. There’s been no justice and that’s not right.”
In April 1997, a therapist told social workers that she learned from a teenage relative of Peter Boy’s that his arm was recently broken by his father. The teen also reported that in the past she saw the boy forced to eat dog feces.
The state began investigating, but state employees say the Kemas were uncooperative and would not produce Peter Boy.
This year, there has been a renewed effort to solve the eight-year mystery of Peter Boy’s disappearance, which has become the most publicized missing child case in state history.
Peter Kema Sr., and his wife, Jaylin, have denied any wrongdoing. After an initial plea for the public’s help, they have remained out of the spotlight.
‘Uncooperative with the system’
The child’s father told authorities he had taken the boy to Oahu while searching for a job in August 1997, but said he put Peter Boy in the care of a family friend there, “Auntie Rose Makuakane.” Police say they have found no trace of her existence, and Peter Kema Sr. says he has not seen the boy since then.
A recently released report classified the Kemas as dysfunctional parents, and said that there is a “disconcerting possibility that Peter Jr. is dead.” It also described the Kemas as “resistant, angry and uncooperative with the system.”
Peter Kema Jr. was born May 1, 1991. Though he disappeared in 1997, no one reported him missing until January 1998.
The case had been kept under a shroud of secrecy until recently. Lawmakers and the media had been told that information could not be made public because the boy’s disappearance was a Family Court case dealing with minors and involving confidentiality laws.
When Koller took office three years ago, she was advised by colleagues not to discuss the case with reporters and to keep the files closed. She decided otherwise.
“We cannot simply accept and have a tolerance for children going missing for eight years,” Koller said.
The state released the first 23 pages of documents on April 30, the day before what would have been Peter Boy’s 14th birthday.
Recent calls to Peter Kema Sr.’s attorney, Steven Strauss, have gone unanswered. The Missing Child Center Hawaii also has declined to discuss the case, referring questions to the state attorney general’s office.
Posters ask, ‘So where’s Peter?’
Prosecutor Charlene Iboshi would not say if an indictment was possible or near. But she said her office was periodically conferring with police on the ongoing investigation, including a meeting scheduled this week.
The case, meanwhile, continues to attract public attention.
A photo of Peter Boy — with short black hair, large brown eyes and an innocent smile — has been plastered on thousands of bumper stickers across Hawaii, asking, “So where’s Peter?”
When the Family Court granted his parents custody of Peter Boy, there was a push in the child welfare system for “family reunification,” or returning the boy to the family, an official said.
“I think people realize that more should’ve been done to protect this child,” state Rep. Dennis Arakaki said. “People have a hard time accepting what was being said by the parents.”
Arakaki, a Democrat, has sought release of the Peter Boy files for nearly eight years because there was “no justice and no voice” on his behalf.
All those who should be speaking on his behalf “basically have been silent,” Arakaki said. “I just felt that this is an example of where a child has sort of become victimized by the system that was supposed to protect him.
“I’m hoping with the release of the information, people might be willing to come forward and at least give him some peace and justice,” Arakaki said.