By Brigette Namata, Anchor and Reporter
Edited by Erik Bathen
November 2, 2019 marks a significant anniversary in Hawaii, but it’s not one to celebrate.
Twenty years prior, a Xerox service technician walked into the Xerox building on Nimitz Highway. Armed with a 9mm Glock, he gunned down 7 coworkers before quietly taking off in a green Aerostar company van.
Ford Kanehira, Ronald Kataoka, Ronald Kawamae, Melvin Lee, Peter Mark, John Sakamoto and Jason Balatico lost their lives at the hands of 40-year-old Byran Uyesugi.
The senseless shootings sent waves throughout the islands, shocking a community known for aloha.
Fearing Uyesugi would continue his rampage, SWAT descended upon the AMFAC building in downtown Honolulu, where additional Xerox offices were located. The building was evacuated.
News of the shootings spread through Honolulu. A jogger reported seeing Uyesugi sitting in a van near the Nature Center in Makiki Heights.
Police rushed to the area. The hostage crisis negotiation team was called.
“When we got there, it was scripted off what we knew,” said retired Honolulu Police Department officer Sheryl Sunia. “It was very limited. There had been a shooting, but we didn’t know how many. He lived with his father, had a brother, a mother who died of cancer. He was closer to his mother. We had to make a decision: ‘Who’s gonna talk to him?’ The choice was to use a woman.”
Sunia herself was chosen to get Uyesugi to surrender.
“I think every time you negotiate, you don’t know what to expect. It’s a scary feeling. What if you say the wrong thing? Not a lot of facts were given to us. You just gotta sink in to the role, I guess,” she said.
“I was up on the hillside sitting in the bushes. He was sitting in his car.”
Sunia said police threw a phone in Uyesugi’s direction. He got out of the van to retrieve it.
“It wasn’t your normal negotiation. It wasn’t someone on drugs, somebody who’s been using drugs and totally insane.”
Sunia spent the next few hours negotiating.
“He was contemplating suicide,” she said.
Sunia didn’t know it at the time, but Uyesugi opened fire in two rooms at the Xerox building — once in a conference room where a meeting was underway.
“He knew the meeting was about him that day,” she recalled. “He felt people were gonna let him go. It was kind of that hopelessness kind of thing. I don’t know if he had planned it. He just felt he had no other choice, in his mind.”
“He felt they were gonna put him on a new machine, he wasn’t going to be able to handle it, they were going to fire him, setting him up to fail. Helplessness and anger, people out to get him — that, to him, was real.”
“He was drinking water, I remember. I was up in the bushes, sitting in dirt, centipedes and cockroaches [around me]. I said, ‘Wow, I could really go for a bottle of water.’ He poured out his water. Now, we both didn’t have water. [I said] ‘I’m hot and tired, what if I bought you a soda? What’s your favorite?’ He said, ‘I don’t have one.’ I said, ‘Everyone has a favorite soda.’
He told Sunia it was Pepsi, so she told him, “Let’s sit down, I’ll buy you a Pepsi if you open the door and come out.”
After approximately 5 hours of negotiating, Byran Uyesugi finally surrendered to police.
Sunia is now the chair of the criminal justice program at Hawaii Pacific University. But she’s never forgotten the events that unfolded on November 2, 1999.
“If I drive up to Tantalus with friends visiting, and I see the Nature Center. You can’t forget the bad stuff you saw there. I can only envision what it’s like for family members if they have to drive by.”
The copy machine repairman’s heinous actions made news headlines across the country.
Suddenly, a nondescript 40-year-old Nuuanu man was thrust into the national spotlight.
Who was Byran Uyesugi? What possessed him to murder 7 men?
“I grew up in Hawaii. And this kind of stuff does not happen. A mass shooting? These guys just show up to work, and they’re killed at point blank range,” said KHON2 reporter Bernadette Baraquio.
A KHON2 anchor and reporter from 1997-2003, Baraquio covered the trial, which began in May 2000.
“We covered that court case from gavel to gavel.”
The public learned Uyesugi lived with his elderly father, and raised goldfish and koi.
He had up to 25 registered firearms.
“This is back in the 1990s, animation isn’t common to use for court cases. So Peter Carlisle was the head prosecutor at the time, he had someone do an animation of what it must have been like the day of the shooting. As he goes down the hallway, he shoots them all. I’m watching it like, it seems like a horror movie.”
The signs were there.
Six years before the slayings, Xerox forced the copy machine repairman to undergo a psychiatric exam after kicking an elevator while on the job.
“They evaluated him. Through those stories, he thought the FBI was following him. He saw black shadows at night. They had a kahuna or a Japanese priest come and bless his house. He was afraid there were spirits following him,” Baraquio explained.
“There was one doctor who interviewed him. He said draw me a human. He drew a devil. And he talked about how he wanted to shoot all his coworkers that made him feel like second best.”
Uyesugi was diagnosed “delusional and paranoid,” but able to safely function in society.
“I did not think he was imminently dangerous,” said one of Uyesugi’s doctors during the trial.
Several coworkers also took the stand during the trial.
“I got a call from (our supervisor) Melvin Lee, to stay at home. ‘Cause Byran made a threat on my life,” coworker Randall Lee revealed in court.
“He seemed to get upset at his other team members. And he said, I’ll take care of them. I’ll shoot all of them. At that time I backed off. I said oh, I gotta go. I got scared,” said another.
One man described Uyesugi’s attitude toward Xerox’s mandatory training on a new machine.
“He just came to the door, I told Byran, “Aye, you gonna be trained next. He tells me no [expletive] way. Then he walked away.”
The training was set for November 2 — the day Uyesugi shot and killed his coworkers.
Defense attorneys insisted the man suffered from a delusional disorder.
After less than 90 minutes of deliberation, Uyesugi was found guilty.
“The prosecutor maintained even though he had those mental disorders, he still knew right from wrong. The jury believed if he knows the difference between right and wrong, and he methodically murdered them, he’s guilty,” said Baraquio.
“Of course, we never had testimony from him. Byran never took the stand. And he still has not talked to reporters this day.”
Byran Uyesugi is currently serving time at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.
Uyesugi refused KHON’s request for an interview.
Melvin Lee. Ford Kanehira. Ronald Kataoka. Peter Mark. Ronald Kawamae. John Sakamoto, and Jason Balatico.
Seven men, gone too soon.
“I went to several funerals. I couldn’t take it already. I said enough. I wanted to attend all, but I couldn’t make it.”
A lot has changed for Evelyn Balatico since she lost her son Jason. Her 79th birthday is coming up. Her husband of 58 years passed 2 years ago.
She is now a great-grandmother; Jason’s children now have children.
Evelyn spends her time volunteering at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church.
“Life goes on. You have to move on. I don’t want to die right now, too. I want to see my grandchildren grow up. I wanna be there for them, too.”
Still, one of the worst days of her life is seared into her memory.
“I was at work that day. It was on the radio, a shooting, shooting at Xerox. My daughter-in-law called. ‘Ma, Jason not answering his phone.’ I said, ‘Oh he’s too busy. No worry, he’s gonna call you back.’ Then later on, my niece called me. They wasn’t giving out any names. She said, ‘Aunty, Aunty, how old is Jason?’ I say 33. She says: ‘He’s one of them.’ I hang up the phone.”
Evelyn was there for every day of the trial. Like the other families, she sought justice.
“I knew it was gonna end quick. Right after the deliberation, I said to people, don’t leave, the verdict is coming in. Sure enough, came in fast. I knew he was gonna be guilty. He hurt so many people. It’s so hard,” said Evelyn, amid tears.
She still grapples with her feelings toward the man who killed her son.
“God forgives everybody. I kind of forgive him. I kind of don’t want to look at him. I watched the whole trial daily. One day I wanted to kill him, the next I forgive him. So much emotions, yeah. It was really hard.”
But as she says, time heals.
“Twenty years ago wasn’t the time to be me, man. I feel much better now.”
Twenty years later, November 2019
A lot has changed in 20 years.
Byran Uyesugi will spend the rest of his life behind bars, never to harm Honolulu again.
Xerox is no longer in the building where the horrific murders took place. Another company occupies the space.
But the hustle and bustle of an evolving island cannot mask the tragic reality: Seven men whose lives were cut short. Seven families, who suffered unimaginable loss.
“Nothing will ever take back what he did. And nothing will bring back those men,” said former KHON2 anchor and reporter Bernadette Baraquio.
“More and more as we move forward in time, Honolulu is losing that island paradise designation. We are becoming more and more a major city of the world,” said retired Honolulu Police Department detective Gary Dias.
Dias dedicated a chapter in his book “Honolulu Homicide” to the murders at Xerox, the worst massacre in modern Hawaii history.
“Awareness is a big issue. With awareness comes knowledge. With knowledge comes efforts to stop violence.”
The nonprofit Gun Violence Archive counted 283 mass shootings on the mainland between January and September 2019. It’s a fact that hits Evelyn Balatico hard.
“That is so unreal. It’s too bad. It’s hard. I don’t know what this world is coming to, with so many people shooting everybody nowadays. It’s hard to comprehend,” she said.
Hawaii joined 16 other states, enacting the “red flag” law allowing family members and coworkers to obtain court orders blocking access to guns for people who show signs of danger to themselves or others.
Now the program chair of criminal justice at Hawaii Pacific University, the former officer who got Uyesugi to surrender, uses the tragedy in her lessons.
“I try and instill in people, yes what he did was heinous, what he did was terrible. He should be punished. What are the circumstances that led up to that? Where can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?” said Sheryl Sunia.
In the last 2 decades, Dr. Kathryn Chun of the Behavioral Health Department at Chaminade University says mental health — especially in the workplace — is taken more seriously.
“It’s become commonplace for people to acknowledge and embrace they’re in therapy. Depressive symptoms are better recognized now.”
In a statement, the Xerox corporation said:
“Hope we never see another Uyesugi. Hope we never see another mass killing. In today’s world, I think we need to face the reality that violence is part of our lives. It’s how we react to it, and the things we do to prevent it from occuring, to begin with,” said Dias.