Details of Disappearance
Isabella's adoptive parents, Isaac Kalua III and Lehua Kalua, reported her missing at 6:30 a.m. on September 13, 2021. They said she was last seen asleep in her bedroom at the family's home on Puha Street in Waimanalo, Hawaii, at 9:00 p.m. the previous night.
Lehua noted that she'd found a side door open and suggested Isabella she had wandered off during the night. She and Isaac said Isabella had a history of leaving the house at night. She has never been heard from again, and an eight-day search turned up no sign of her.
Isabella's biological mother had substance abuse problems, and as a result the child's grandmother had served as legal guardian for her and four of her sisters. The girls were put in foster care in 2019, over concerns that their grandmother had become "overwhelmed" after her partner was seriously injured in an accident. Isabella and three of her sisters went to stay with the Kaluas, and the fourth girl moved in with a relative.
In January 2021, the Kaluas legally adopted Isabella and changed her name. The same day she was reported missing, Child Welfare Services removed all three of her siblings from the Kalua home.
Isaac has a prior criminal record; he was convicted of three counts of terroristic threatening and assault in 2001 and sentenced to five years' probation. His record should have disqualified him from being able to foster or adopt children, and it's not clear how he and his wife were approved as foster and then as adoptive parents.
On November 10, Isaac and Lehua were both arrested and charged with second-degree murder, hindering prosecution, persistent non-support, and endangering the welfare of a minor in Isabella's case. Lehua was also charged with two counts of abuse of a family or household member. Photos of the Kaluas are posted with this case summary.
Authorities believe Isaac and Lehua murdered Isabella in mid-August, about a month before she was reported missing. The child was last seen on the household's video surveillance cameras on August 18, and is believed to have been killed on that date or shortly thereafter.
Isabella had been enrolled in kindergarten at Waimanalo Elementary School via distance learning, but in June 2021, her parents withdrew her from school and filed paperwork to homeschool her. She had been taken to the hospital twice in the two years prior to her disappearance for treatment of injuries: in October 2019, she had a broken finger, and in January 2020 she broke her leg. Her parents said both injuries were accidental and a state investigation ruled out abuse.
According to her twelve-year-old sister, both she and Isabella were physically and mentally abused by the Kaluas and that Isabella had frequently been locked in a dog cage. Lehua had purchased the cage even though the family didn't have a dog, and locked Isabella in it because she would "sneak around at night and want to eat because she was hungry". She was hungry, her sister said, because her parents were not feeding her.
Isabella's sister stated that their parents had asked her to "keep a secret", the secret being that Lehua and Isaac had placed duct tape over Isabella's nose and mouth while she was in the dog cage and she "didn't wake up." Lehua tried to revive Isabella by filling the bathtub with water and putting her in it, but this didn't work. Her sister was made to carry Isabella's body into a bedroom.
According to Isabella's sister, the couple worked to get rid of the evidence of the murder and created a ruse so Isaac could get time off of work to help Lehua cover up the crime. On August 21, about three days after Isabella is believed to have been murdered, he went to the hospital claiming to have symptoms of Covid and took two weeks' sick leave from work due to his alleged infection.
The Kaluas are awaiting trial in Isabella's presumed death. Her remains have not been found, but foul play is suspected due to the circumstances involved.