HONOLULU (KHON2) — How could such atrocious acts by alleged murderers Isaac and Lehua Kalua take place in a home full of children fostered and adopted through the state’s child welfare system (CWS)? Always Investigating sought answers.

Police said child welfare involvement scales back upon adoption. The state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) said there still is an oversight. How much oversight matters not just for what could have happened to Isabella Kalua, also known as Ariel Sellers, but for the safety of her fostered and adopted siblings going forward, as well as for other children statewide.

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The day Isaac and Lehua Kalua were arrested in connection with the murder of Ariel, one of their adopted daughters who had come to them as a foster child, police said this:

“At some point fairly recently within the past year or two, at least Ariel was legally adopted by the Kaluas,” explained Maj. Ben Moszkowicz of HPD. “Once adoptions are completed, the CWS involvement in the case kind of scales its way back so they’re not conducting the same level of checks or things like that they would prior to adoption.”

Maj. Ben Moszkowicz of Honolulu Police Department
Isabella Kalua, 6, was reported missing on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (Courtesy: Honolulu CrimeStoppers)

Always Investigating asked DHS if there is a difference in oversight between adopted and fostered kids?

A spokesperson replied: “After a child is adopted, the child is no longer under the custody of DHS, and DHS is involved because of the adoption assistance/adoption subsidy. However, CWS takes every report of child abuse or neglect seriously.”

DHS added that “upon adoption of a child, the Family Court and DHS closes its cases (a social worker is no longer assigned).”

DHS would not disclose whether and how often anyone from DHS was at the Kalua house during summer and fall of 2021 before the disappearance but added: “case management is provided to families with a child who is under the custody of DHS.”

Even as of summer 2021, at least one child in the Kalua home — the youngest of the four siblings — was and still is a foster, a DHS custody — according to court documents, which state the other three had been adopted.

Ariel’s oldest sibling turned out to be the key witness revealed in court documents today — details of starvation, Ariel being duct-taped and caged until she stopped breathing and did not wake up sometime in August.

“As far as the other children, Ariel’s sisters, we know they are in CWS custody, and they’re safe at this time,” Moszkowicz said. “So, we’re hopeful that they’ll take whatever measures are necessary to continue to protect these children.”

DHS said: “Case management is provided to families where direct services are provided that are in the best interests of the child that is either at risk of being removed from the home or the child is under the custody of DHS.”

According to the document, the sibling revealed Ariel’s torture in a Nov. 5th interview, nearly two months after the initial missing child alert was initiated. Police would not tell KHON2 whether this was the first interview with that child or if it was a follow-up, other than to say: “The entire investigation is not included in the affidavit.”

Police did say they had gone back to take a different tact on the investigation recently after FBI guidance.

“In particular, the insight provided by the FBI insight behavioral analysis unit into the mindset of the suspects, in this case, was instrumental in helping advance the investigation to where it is today,” Moskowicz added.

The behavioral analysis extends, not just to suspects, but witnesses, too.

“We gave them (the FBI) a bunch of evidence and they turned around and gave us the evidence back but told us, maybe look at it from this angle, or maybe when you talk to this person, talk about this,” Moskowicz explained. “But those kinds of very slight changes to the tactic that the homicide team was taking was able to create this development.”

More than just behavioral analysis is at work in the case now, though, as authorities continue the search for Ariel’s body

“You’re probably talking about a significant amount of time passing,” explained Dr. Katelynn Perrault, associate professor of forensics and chemistry at Chaminade University. “So, finding things, like bones, would be pretty typical of this type of scenario. Remains that are above ground typically will decompose more quickly than remains that are below ground.”

Experts said any movement of the body and evidence from the scene of a murder will complicate the trail.

“There can be things like odors that can remain behind, but typically they don’t last over a period of months,” Perrault said, adding that canines will be instrumental regardless of where the body was disposed. There are cases where dogs are able or have been able to detect human remains in or underneath concrete. The odors from things like trash versus from human remains; they can actually differentiate if human remains were to be found in somewhere like a dump.”

Police also indicated the case could grow beyond just a murder charge, looking for evidence related to the surviving siblings as well.

“We’re looking for witnesses who know and may have interacted with Ariel and her sisters between 2019 and Aug 2021 to come forward,” Moskowicz said.

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Anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect is asked to call the statewide hotline 1-888-380-3088. To report suspected human trafficking of children call 1-888-398-1188

“Child Welfare Services is part of the child welfare system,” a DHS spokesperson explained. “This system includes law enforcement, the courts, schools, medical staff, extended family and neighbors. We ask the community to please report what you see and what you hear so we may investigate where risk of child abuse or neglect is suspected, or where child abuse and neglect has occurred.”