HONOLULU (KHON2) — When Tuli Tafai went to visit his grandparents at Sunset Memorial Park on Christmas Day, he brought fresh flowers to mark the occasion. He’s been coming to the Pearl City cemetery since his grandma died in 1996, followed by his grandpa in 2001.

“What I witnessed was so disturbing and unacceptable,” he said.

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Graves are sinking to the ground almost to the point of exposing caskets — Tafai said he’s seen at least a dozen like them. There’s no water accessible for visitors to water plants. The crypt has missing covers. The roof of the crypt is crumbling. The list goes on.

Tafai has been visiting his grandparents more frequently over the last few years, with his last visit being on Dec. 25, 2021. He said his family has been blessed to have all his paternal grandfather’s family in one area that they’ve been keeping up. But the rain from previous weeks has now caused their section to sink.

“I have noticed even worse gravesites that are sinking where you can almost see the casket,” Tafai explained. “Grass is shoulder height in a bunch of areas, and so it has been getting worse. There is no signage to warn visitors of holes or sinking graves.”

Tafai adds that there’s also a homeless encampment on the property.

“It’s huge,” he said. “A lot of people I see visit are elderly folks, and they don’t feel safe. It’s an eyesore.” 

While he’s considering trying to move one of his grandparents, it’s not something that can easily be done.

“It’s just the cost to do it ranges in the tens of thousands,” Tafai said.

In the meantime, Tafai has made a few calls to people in hopes of trying to make the cemetery a better place. He was able to get in touch with Sen. Kurt Fevella’s office, who then sent a letter to the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA) requesting an update on its efforts to explore viable long-term options to address these concerns.

Read Sen. Fevella’s letter to DCCA below:

The letter mentions a report issued by DCCA in December 2018, stating it would commence the following:

  • Create a master inventory and plot map to help identify the number of decedents interred at Sunset Memorial Park. 
  • Once the master inventory and plot map were completed, pursue a court order to dissolve Sunset Memorial Park, settle outstanding business affairs of the cemetery, distribute the assets, and notify interested parties that the cemetery will not accept further burials.
  • Following the completion of these items, DCCA would be able to evaluate options for long-term maintenance of the cemetery.

Read the report to the Legislature in December 2018 below:

While DCCA recognized that State control of the cemetery could be an option, the report says there are concerns about costs and liability. Since the death of the Sunset Memorial Park owner, there is no registered owner on record. Volunteers in the past have tried to maintain the grounds, but the park remains in disrepair and has been a focal point of numerous complaints.

In a recent update, DCAA said it has hired an expert to survey the property and create a database documenting the GPS location of each plot, marker, and information on each marker. The goal is to populate a website that can be shared with the community and to seek additional information from the community. The website is scheduled to go live within the next month.

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“The main priority is the upkeep around the cemetery,” Tafai said. “We need water to do our end and upkeep our families gravesites. These families paid a lot of money back then, and it’s just sad to see their final resting place in shambles.”