Maui store owner offers reward for return of stolen Ni'ihau shell lei collection

(Image: Maui Hands)
(Image: Maui Hands)

MAKAWAO, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Maui store owner is devastated after someone broke into her shop and took off with a valuable Ni'ihau shell lei collection.

It happened just before 5 a.m. Monday at Maui Hands in Makawao.

Surveillance cameras captured the suspect breaking through the back door and climbing through the shattered glass into the store.

Owner Panna Cappelli said the suspect put on a ski mask before busting through a display case holding the precious jewelry.

"He knew exactly where to go, he went right to it and didn't look at anything else," Cappelli said.

Cappelli described the suspect as a Caucasian man about 6 feet tall with bushy, dark hair. He was wearing a dark-colored hoodie and appeared to have a tattoo covering his right hand.

In less than one minute, Cappelli said he ran off with about 20 lei, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her store alarm never went off.

"It really breaks my heart," Cappelli said. "That's my passion and they're my babies."

Cappelli has been collecting lei for more than 20 years and prides herself on being one of the largest collectors in the state.

Ni'ihau shells are heirlooms in Hawaii and only the most-skilled hands know the intricacy required to weave the precious shells into unique lei.

Cappelli said they're irreplaceable and hopes the suspect will have the heart to return them.

"There's so much mana (power) in those lei made by people from Ni'ihau," said Cappelli. "All the shells are from Ni'ihau. This is not going to go well for him. It's a huge cultural loss and these pieces were destined to be in a museum some day. I hope some day, they will still be in a museum."

Cappelli said in her 25 years of running four different stores, she never experienced a theft.

She is offering a $5,000 reward for the arrest of the suspect and the return of her shells.

Anyone with information should contact Maui Police.

Copyright 2017 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.