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Stolen cross returned to Hilo church


A cross stolen from the front lawn of a historic Hilo church has been returned to the house of worship.

The 7-foot-tall white wooden cross stolen in broad daylight Aug. 12 from United Community Church at the corner of Kinoole and Mohouli streets was found in a yard near the Bay Clinic’s Hilo Family Health Center on Kinoole, less than a block from the church. It was recovered by police and returned to the church Wednesday morning, the same day the Tribune-Herald ran a front-page story about the theft.

“Actually, the cross was planted in the ground,” said the Rev. Merle Lai, the church’s pastor. “… We’re relieved, happy and so grateful to the Tribune-Herald and the Police Department and the people who actually gave the information to the Police Department.”

The missing cross was investigated by Hilo Patrol Officer Jeremy Kubojiri and recovered at around 8:30 a.m. by Officers Darryl Castillo and Keith Simeona, who brought Lai to the scene to identify the cross.

“We had an anonymous call,” said Castillo. “… I guess they read the article in the paper. They said they think they’d seen the cross in this person’s yard. Long story short, … it was in the yard, the back side (of the home). They had put it up.”

Police don’t believe the person who had the cross was the individual who actually pilfered it from the church yard. The suspect was described as a “young white male jogger” who uprooted the cross and ran with it down Kinoole in the Puna direction.

“The suspect is a guy in his early 20s, Caucasian-looking guy, short hair, he was bare-backed with shorts, and fit-looking,” Castillo said. “The guy who brought it home was an older guy. He saw it on the side of the road down from where he lived, which was in the line where it was taken from. He brought it back to the house and just put it in his yard.”

Castillo said the person who had the cross “had no idea” where it came from.

“He found it partially on the street and on the sidewalk, maybe two houses down from his house,” he said. “He was walking back from the store with a couple of friends, saw it and said, ‘Hey, what’s this? It’s a cross.’ He had some bad things happening at home, so he took it home and put it up, thinking he would keep the evil spirits away. That’s what he told me. So he put it up in his yard.”

Castillo is a licensed minister for Hope Chapel as well as a police officer, and is known as “Pastor Darryl.”

“When Merle came and we found this, it felt so good,” Castillo said. “The (monetary) value isn’t that great, because it’s two pieces of wood. But two pieces of wood put together the right way makes a symbol that’s timeless.”

The incident is being investigated as fourth-degree theft, a petty misdemeanor.

“The investigation is still active and there’s a person of interest,” said Lt. James Gusman of Hilo Patrol Division.

Ada Kamaunu, the church’s office manager, said for now, the cross is inside the church until its Board of Directors decides how best to deal with it.

“We took it for granted, I think, and until it was missing, it was always there,” she said. “When it disappeared, it caused quite a disruption in the church. It was just a part of the church.

“We’re at such an important corner, Mohouli and Kinoole, and I wonder if with so many passing by, people happened to notice it was gone. But not until it was in the paper were people calling and bringing attention to it.”

Kamaunu said the story of the stolen cross has also sparked statewide media interest.

“Very interesting how one cross in little Hilo from one little church could cause such a commotion and bring such interest. The focus has been on the storm (Iselle) for so long,” she said.

Castillo called the cross’ recovery evidence of “the power of the media.”

“If it wasn’t on the front page and people didn’t see it, the cross could have been in that yard for a long time and people would think nothing of it,” Castillo said.

“God works in mysterious ways. Storms come, but they always clear up.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.