20 years ago, a killer shattered the morning calm and changed Hawaii forever

Just after 8 a.m. on Nov. 2, 1999, the Xerox building in Honolulu became the site of the worst mass shooting in Hawaii's history.
Updated: Nov. 2, 2019 at 7:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nov. 2, 1999 started out normal enough.

At the Xerox building in Honolulu that Tuesday, workers arrived as usual and headed to their desks.

Then just after 8 a.m., one of their coworkers ― Byran Uyesugi ― walked in and opened fire with a 9 mm handgun.

By the time the shooting stopped, seven people were dead.

Saturday marks 20 years since that worst mass shooting in Hawaii history, and disbelief over the scale of carnage and heartache Uyesugi left in his path still remain.

Claire Nakayama Dodson, one of the jurors who would convict Uyesugi in his murder trial, said the killer seemed so quiet and unassuming.

"He just talked very calmly. There was no expression,” she said.

But as the trial went on, Dodson said, it was clear Uyesugi not only had another side ― but knew the difference between right and wrong.

“He knew about the Bible and the Ten Commandments. That was the clincher,” she said.

Uyesugi, now in his 60s, is held at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. And barring a significant change in his sentence, he’ll die behind bars.

Following his conviction in 2000, the Hawaii parole board ordered Uyesugi to serve a minimum term of 235 years in prison — the longest sentence ever for a Hawaii inmate.

Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle served as a prosecutor in the trial. He said the conviction was cold comfort to Uyesugi’s countless victims ― the wives and mothers, fathers and brothers, and the children and grandchildren who lost so much on Nov. 2, 1999.

"I’m obviously pleased that we got that verdict, but it’s profoundly inadequate to address how much we’ve lost,” Carlisle said.

On the day Uyesugi walked into the Xerox warehouse off Nimitz Highway and gunned down his coworkers, he had been employed with the company for 15 years and feared he would be fired.

Police, medical personnel and others swarmed to the Xerox building after getting 911 calls of a deadly shooting. There was disbelief as the scale of the tragedy unfolded through the day.

“You would never think it would happen, you know, at your workplace,” an employee said that day. “I mean you hear it all around, but, you know, this is too close. Way too close.”

“Personally, I think this is the largest number of victims in a single murder case,” a police officer said.

Seven men died: Jason Balatico, Ford Kanehira, Ronald Kataoka, Ronald Kawamae, Melvin Lee, Peter Mark and John Sakamoto.

The seven victims of the Xerox mass shooting were all men, many of whom had young families.
The seven victims of the Xerox mass shooting were all men, many of whom had young families.(Hawaii News Now/file)

After the shooting, Uyesugi drove away from the scene to an area near the Hawaii Nature Center, where he sat in his car, smoking cigarettes.

He was finally captured after an hours-long standoff with police and charged with first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Uyesugi's attorneys said he was deluded, believing that his coworkers were plotting against him.

“There had been years and years and years of torment. Of conspiracy. Of sabotage. And although they may not in actuality have happened, he believed that,” said defense attorney Jerel Fonseca.

“These were fixed, firm, unshakable beliefs.”

But the prosecution said Uyesugi was deliberate in what he did.

"November 2nd was his opportunity,” Carlisle said.

“He’d been thinking about killing these people for years and years, and the problem — one of the problems he confronted was basically they’re never in the same location at the same time. That morning, everybody that he wanted to kill was going to be in the same room.”

Five of the men killed at the Xerox building were shot in a conference room, according to police. Two others were in a separate office.

Several coworkers had reported having difficulty working with him and said he had threatened their lives. Uyesugi himself had also filed harassment complaints about his colleagues.

Six years before the mass murder, Uyesugi was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation and anger management courses after he kicked in and damaged an elevator door at work.

He was arrested for third-degree criminal property damage.

After the incident, several coworkers testified that Uyesugi began openly talking about carrying out a mass shooting at Xerox if he were to be fired.

He did have an extensive collection of firearms.

At the time of his arrest there were 17 registered to his name. That fact would prompt changes in Hawaii gun laws.

Throughout his trial, Uyesugi’s family maintained the shooter was not a violent man. His hobbies were raising and breeding goldfish and koi, which he would sell to local pet stores.

They described him as quiet but withdrawn. He attended Roosevelt High School, where he was a member of the school’s Army JROTC and rifle team.

However, his brother did testify that Uyesugi crashed their father's car and hit his head on the windshield shortly after graduating high school in 1977 and was "never the same afterwards.”

After his conviction, Uyesugi appealed. The conviction was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 2002.

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