CAPTAIN COOK, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ten-year-old Janexty Kaaloa, or "Ulu" as she was called, loved walking home from school by herself.
And her mother said she knew how to be safe.
"She knows the rule, and she usually waits. She waits until she can't see any cars," Julie Kaaloa said.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Kaaloa spotted her mother and other relatives in front of their family-owned store in Captain Cook and got excited. Without looking both ways first, the girl darted across Mamalahoa Highway to greet them, failing to spot the pickup truck that struck her.
"My niece said, 'Ulu's home!' so we went outside and we were waiting for her," Kaaloa said.
After she was struck, Ulu's mother and aunt ran to cradle the child in their arms. Her mother says Ulu was already gone.
"I think God loved her so much and he must love me too because ... he gave her to me to raise her and to love her for the short time she was here," Kaaloa said.
Ulu would make the trek from the family store, Kaaloa Super J's, to Honaunau Elementary School and back again, every day. The walk is less than half a mile, but she had to cross the highway once each time.
The driver of the truck, 61-year-old William Herndon, of Captain Cook, stopped after the accident. He was arrested on suspicion of negligent homicide and later released pending investigation.
Police are investigating if speed was a factor, but Kaaloa says it was just an accident.
"He's just a man going home from work," said Kaaloa, who added that she wants him to know the family doesn't have ill will.
"I wish I knew who he was so I could give him a big hug because I can just imagine the pain that he must be in to be responsible. To take the life of a little girl, who had so many people who loved her. But he was the one (who) was chosen to send her back to home to our heavenly father."
Kaaloa says Ulu was a happy girl, an outgoing girl and a silly girl, who loved school, her friends, and her family.
The little girl with the bright smile was also known for her love for animals. "She brought home so many stray cats," Kaaloa said. We had a storm and she brought home all these kittens."
At the family store, which specializes in pork lau lau, Ulu was a fixture.
Ulu would always greet customers and help out. When she was just 3 years old, Kaaloa said, Ulu would ask customers for their names and phone numbers because she was learning to write.
Services for Ulu are set for Saturday.
An autopsy has been scheduled Thursday to determine her exact cause of death.