KAMUELA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Big Island police have charged a man with manslaughter in connection with the death of a young relative who had been left in his care. And family members are both devastated and puzzled by what happened.
Marley Makanani's grandmother said she trusted the man who has been charged in the little girl's death -- so much so, that she made him her hanai son years ago. And that's one reason why she and other family members can't explain the tragedy.
Three-year-old Marley, along with her two-year-old and six-year-old sisters, were left in the care of her uncle, Ezekiel Wakinekona, in his home in Kamuela. The 37-year-old Wakinekona is now charged with manslaughter in her death.
"I don't know," said relative Melissa Lindsey on the Big Island, when asked if she knew why it happened. "You know perhaps maybe if someone saw the signs, maybe we could've got (Ezekiel) help as well. But then again, who are we to judge? We actually don't know."
According to a police report, Makanani was found last Friday, partially submerged in a bathtub and with restricted breathing. She was rushed to North Hawaii Community Hospital, where doctors also found "several bruises on both legs and a laceration on the left hip area."
Makanani was transported to Honolulu, where she died two days later.
Police charged Wakinekona on Sunday with manslaughter for Makanani's death and with two counts of abuse of a family/household member for injuries found on Makanani's sisters, who were taken into state protective custody.
Police say a medical exam on the six-year-old found "numerous bruising in different stages on her entire buttocks, legs and left ear." She also had a lump on the back of her head and complained of pain to her left rib cage area.
The youngest girl had a cut lip and marks to her face.
Wakinekona has no felony convictions, but has been found guilty of ten misdemeanors and petty misdemeanors, such as failure to obey police and third-degree assault. His bail was set at $60,000.
The family is also defending itself from attacks on social media sites, criticizing them for leaving the girls with Wakinekona.
"Picking on the children. They're innocent," said Betsy Lindsey. "They didn't do it. The person who did it is in custody. They know who did it, you know.; He's gonna be punished for what he did. But leave the rest of the family alone."
A spokesperson for the state Child Welfare Services said Wednesday that "Marley's siblings remain in foster care and Child Welfare Services is working with the family to identify other relatives and kin as placement options. While the children are in foster care, visits are being arranged for the children to visit with their family."
Betsy Lindsey said she plans to move back to Hawaii from the mainland to be here for her grandchildren.