Raghunatha John Giuffre knows how it feels to return from the dead.
The 49-year-old Wainaku man was the third and final person stabbed during a spree that took place around midnight May 23, and the only one who reportedly knew the alleged assailant, 28-year-old Varaha Nrsngha Mims.
“The experience is going to the funeral and getting up out of the funeral and your friends and family and community are celebrating your coming back from the dead. This is unlike any other experience I’ve had in my life,” Giuffre said Friday from his bed at Hilo Medical Center, where he is recovering from the attack.
“I thought I was dead out there, at that point. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna die now. I’ve gotten to say my piece with my mom,’” he said.
At that point, Giuffre’s mother, Jagaddhatri Jean Prem, interjects, “Can I tell him what you said?”
“I was looking down on him and he looked a sorry sight,” she continued. “And he just looked at me and he said, ‘Don’t cry, mata (mother). I’m not afraid to die.’”
Added Giuffre: “I said I’m actually ready to go. It’s been a tough couple of years but I’ve completed all the things I wanted. I’ve completed my service … and I’m happy to go now.”
Giuffre and Prem are Hare Krishnas, as is the alleged assailant, who minutes before the attack on Giuffre allegedly stabbed a couple, 28-year-old Skylar Nelson and 27-year-old Sarah Steinbrecher, outside Hilo Town Tavern.
At last report, Nelson remained in critical condition at The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu with a punctured aorta. Steinbrecher, who was stabbed in the lower back, was treated at HMC for her injuries and released.
Giuffre said he knew Mims’ parents in California before the alleged stabber, who is jailed without bail and awaiting a mental examination to determine is fitness for trial, was born. He opened his home to Mims and Mims’ girlfriend.
“We’re something of a community, so we extended ourselves as friends of the community. More so, I’m a friend of the family,” Giuffre said. “He wanted to do something with the earth and growing and natural foods, so there is a sense of being the elder. … And over time we’d spent together, he’d extended that kind of respect for me.”
At some point, Mims, who is also known as “Vasu,” apparently became angry or agitated and his relationship with Giuffre deteriorated.
“He had taken a hatchet to the temple room and went after the god that dispels demons and ghosts,” Giuffre said. “We have 10 deities on our altar and he went after the one that dispels demons and ghosts.”
That deity, half man and half lion, is an incarnation of Vishnu known as Narasingh, a variation of Mims’ middle name.
Two days before the stabbing, Mims, who has trained as an amateur mixed martial arts fighter, allegedly punched Giuffre from behind, knocking him unconscious. Giuffre chose not to press charges, but evicted Mims and Mims’ girlfriend.
“I asked the cops if I pressed the charges, would we be able to get him into a medical program where he could get a time out? … And they said, no, it’s his first offense. He’ll probably be out in an hour after posting bail. And at that point … I become a target.
“His girlfriend came to me and said he’s really sorry. That’s when I told her if you leave my premises, then I won’t press charges. So I used not pressing charges as the bribe to get him to leave the house.”
Giuffre and Prem are both convinced divine intervention led neighbors Cody Hughes and her companion, Craig, to intercede while Mims was still allegedly stabbing Giuffre.
“They saved my life,” he said.
Giuffre, who is a licensed massage therapist and author, said he thinks the stabbings may not have occurred if law enforcement, social workers and mental health professionals had the latitude to administer what Giuffre called a “time out” in response to violent outbursts.
“In his case, we had a run-in,” he said. “If we could have had a time out for three to five days where we had all the community’s resources focused on him and we could have gone in and talked to all the parties, get him what he needs in order to send him down a different pathway.
“So many of these crime stories are about the terror and the anger and the conflict and the crime. And violence. But this story is actually one of miracles. If we can remind ourselves of the intervention, it takes the story in a direction that is far more constructive and empowering. What gets lost here is the bigger context of goodness in the community that is the charm of our town and do we have to accept that it’s being lost and there’s nothing we can do?”
Giuffre said his knee needs to heal and he needs to regain mobility before he’s discharged from the hospital. Friends have set up an online fundraising site to help him defray his medical and rehabilitation expenses at youcaring.com/brotherraghu. As of Friday afternoon, Giuffre’s medical bills topped $30,000 and $11,800 had been raised.
“We’re getting the sort of narrative that this is a small-town Hilo crime wave,” he said. “I want to change the narrative. The crime was a California crime; it was imported. The response of the community is what small-town Hawaii is.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.