Summer Institute: Global Mental Health & Psychosocial Support
Resilience Training for Journalists & Aid Workers
Presentation: Intimidation, Sexual Harassment & Moral Injury among Journalists
Training: Mindfulness for Journalists
On Nov. 1, 2006, Daysha was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Jeffrey Boyd Santos Jr., a man she had lived with and loved, and the father of her only child. She was 21. This is her story as told by her journals, her family and her friends. She is missed, and she is remembered.
Even in her journals, writing for herself, Daysha Iwalani Aiona-Aka was often guarded in the way she described what was wrong with her relationship with her boyfriend.
She wrote about making a better life for herself and their baby son. She wished her relationship with Jeffrey Boyd Santos Jr. could be as loving as it once was, and she fretted about the fights. She wondered if counseling would help. She worried about the harm that the strife in her home was doing to her son, a helpless witness.
At times she wrote with anger, at times with guilt. Usually, she wrote with hope, in the voice of a strong, optimistic woman who wanted everything to turn out right. She decorated her journals with sketches of butterflies and smiley faces, and she would replay for herself the vivid memories of better times.
"Remember the time we were cruising one night and we went to Dairy Queen for a snack, and Jeffrey ordered a Sunday, as soon as he got it he spilled it all over himself," Daysha wrote in an October 2004 entry. "It was one of those nervous first dates. When he would be all duked up and waiting for me at the bottom of the hill in his Honda Accord, smelling like a handsome prince in his Cool Water Cologne."
"I remember those amazing nights we spent together up Uka meadows, holding each other so tight because it was so cold."
Later journal entries reflect the ache of a woman who is losing her hope. Some of the neatly written pages read like black-and-white X-rays into the interior of the suffering, a confined place occupied by some exhausted stranger who no longer sounds like Daysha. Daysha was the bold woman with the tiare flower behind her ear who swooped up the driveway in her blue Mazda Protege to grab her sisters for an impromptu shopping excursion. She was the charmer who dazzled even the grumpy customers at Safeway with her wide grin and dimples.
But the stranger in the journal compared herself to dirty, stinking, puka socks buried in the bottom of some dark dresser drawer, abandoned to the gnawing cockroaches.
"I'm weak, I can barely get up in the morning, the only reason I do is because our baby needs to be taken care of," Daysha wrote just before midnight on July 20, 2005, as Jeffrey slept in the next room in their rented home in 'Ainaloa Estates in Puna on the Big Island.
"I think someone needs a lot of help, and it ain't me," she wrote. "I may need help, but in other ways. He's like a changing chameleon, like a vampire, it's horrifying, and I don't want my son around it. It's been five years and all this abusing hasn't stopped. Not even when I was pregnant, not even when he was in anger management class ... I've got to say that he hits me like every other day. I'll be lucky if I last two or three days without getting hit or getting my hair pulled.
"This man is a horrible person, and he don't love me, believe me."
There were outward signs. There was strange behavior and bruises. There were fights, smashed cell phones and Daysha said things that worried people. Her sisters saw things, and her grandmother went so far as to file for a restraining order against Jeffrey when Daysha was still a teenager.
But for six years Daysha kept returning to Jeffrey, and no one grasped the nature of the danger until after Daysha was dead.
Hard times, from the start
Daysha's older sister, Cassie Kamai, believes Daysha met Jeffrey at a time when Daysha was needy and emotionally fragile.
Daysha was in ninth grade, and had just moved back to Hilo after going through some ugly experiences at the hands of her peers on Kaua'i. She was aching from upheaval within her own family, and she seemed to be missing something, or craving something, Cassie said.
As a little girl Daysha divided her time between her grandparents' Hilo home in Waiakea Uka and the house where her mother, Donna Weber, lived about two miles makai of the grandparents' home.
Donna's relationship with Daysha's father, Stoney Aiona-Aka, had fractured when Daysha was 1. Stoney packed up and moved to Las Vegas, and Daysha had no contact with him growing up.
In an essay about her life that Daysha wrote as a teenager, she described how she would sit next to her mother watching talk shows on TV, and would fantasize about approaching Sally Jessy Raphael or Maury Povich to ask them to find her absent father for her.
"All my life, 17 years, I did not have any idea who he was and what he did for a living. I wondered and wondered each day that went by. I wanted to meet up with him and ask him all these questions I had inside. But I knew nothing about him, and didn't know how I'd find him," she wrote.
A couple of times Daysha got Stoney's number in Las Vegas and picked up the phone to call, but then hung up at the last minute, Donna said.
With Stoney gone, Daysha was raised in Hilo by her stepfather, Michael Dias, who she considered her "real" father. He tattooed Daysha's name on his neck, and built her a play house that still stands in the yard in Waiakea, stocked with Daysha's old Barbie dolls and other toys.
When Dias got a state job that required him to move to Kaua'i, Daysha and her mother moved with him. Daysha was in the seventh grade.
For Daysha, things went badly on Kaua'i. She wrote about the difficulty of making new friends at Kaua'i High and Intermediate School, and also about her confusion when Donna and Michael Dias split up at the beginning of Daysha's eighth-grade year.
Donna and Daysha got their own place on Kaua'i, and Daysha's older sister, Cassie, moved to Kaua'i to join them when Cassie finished high school in Hilo.
The breakup of Donna and Daysha's stepfather was painful. "I got into lots of trouble and did all the naughty things," Daysha wrote years later. "I ran away from home and partied a lot even on school nights because I missed my dad. I saw him only once in awhile, and I hated that because I was also very close to him.
"Then I realized there was not going to be no 'mommy and daddy' anymore, so I grew out of that stage and began to forgive and forget."
At school, there were more problems. Daysha was cutting class and getting into trouble, getting slapped with detention and suspensions, and coping with the jealousy of other teenage girls. Donna said her daughter's outgoing personality naturally made other girls want to be with her, but some resented her sudden popularity.
Daysha had a scuffle with another girl midway through her eighth-grade year, and was later attacked and "mobbed" by a group of girls in a neighborhood park. People she thought were her friends just stood around and watched, Donna said.
Daysha struck her head hard on concrete during the park attack, and was taken by ambulance to Wilcox Hospital. The experience left her anxious and always looking over her shoulder at school, and the police were later called in when Daysha reported the girl who led the attack in the park had followed up with a new threat at school.
A counselor finally recommended Daysha be home-schooled because of her fear of being attacked or mobbed again, and Donna said Daysha finished the eighth grade by completing her assignments at home. Kaua'i wasn't working out, and in the summer of 1999, Daysha made plans to move back to Hilo to go to Waiakea High School.
While on Kaua'i, Daysha had a "puppy love" sort of fondness for a boy, her family said, but it was not until she moved back to Hilo to live with her grandparents and started the new school year at Waiakea that she met her first real boyfriend. He was Jeffrey Boyd Santos Jr.
Trouble in Hilo, new romance
Daysha had her own name for her grandmother, Bev Akimseu. Daysha called Bev "Annie," which was short for "Auntie," and Daysha admitted that her Annie "spoils me rotten and makes sure I am well taken care of."
Bev and her husband, Tommy Akimseu, played a large role in raising Daysha; her older brother, Waylen Leopoldino; and her older sister, Cassie Kamai. Grandparents Bev and Tommy, who are both retired in Hilo from Hawaiian Electric Light Co., would pitch in, and the children often spent weekends and other time at the grandparents' house.
"They were always there for us. Whatever we needed, they were there," Cassie said. Daysha wrote that she was like a "big sister" to the Akimseus' younger son, and when Daysha returned to Hilo in 1999, she naturally moved in with Bev and Tommy.
The transition back to life in Hilo and Waiakea High School was difficult, Bev recalled. Although Daysha was deeply attached to Bev and had never been a troublesome child, she was now rebellious. Tommy "would take her to school, drop her off, he'd drive off, and she'd leave campus," Bev recalled.
She was skipping classes and barely getting by, and Bev was never quite sure how she managed to get promoted to the 10th grade. "I would tell her you can't go out, and she would just go," Bev said.
Jeffrey and Daysha were introduced by Jeffrey's ex-girlfriend early in Daysha's time at Waiakea High School, Cassie said. Daysha was 15, and Jeffrey was almost two years older, and was being home-schooled.
Daysha's new romance with Jeffrey began to take much of her time and attention. Cassie said Jeffrey often picked her up in the middle of the school day, pulling her out of her classes, and Daysha finally dropped out of high school in her senior year.
"He just didn't like the idea that he couldn't be there with her all day at school," Cassie said of Jeffrey. Cassie disliked Jeffrey early on because he seemed too clingy, constantly calling Daysha. He was also shy and unsociable, and never looked Cassie in the eye when she talked to him.
Bev and Tommy were also bothered. Jeffrey was polite, always carefully groomed and well dressed in collared shirts and slacks, but obviously reluctant to interact with Daysha's grandparents. He would park his car at the bottom of the driveway, and wait for Daysha to come out to talk with him. The couple would sit in the car and talk.
Tommy disapproved of that, and told Daysha, "If he wants to see you, then come up here." But that didn't help much.
"If he did come up he would sit outside there on the porch, just sit out there," Tommy said. "We never really got to know him, because he never wanted to come in."
Jeffrey would show up at the Akimseu home late, and Daysha would leave with him at 10 p.m. "I told her, 'Come inside the house, you can entertain him here, where are you going so late at night?' " Bev said. "It wasn't like a normal dating where he would come and take her to dinner or take her to the movies."
Later, Jeffrey would come to the house for family dinners, but didn't participate much. "He would sit right there in the corner, have dinner with us, Thanksgiving or Christmas or birthdays or whatever, and he don't say a thing for the whole time we're here with the family, and after he's finished he just get up and go out," Tommy said. "That's how he was."
As the relationship between Daysha and Jeffrey grew more serious, the family grew accustomed to Jeffrey's "ways," but he was always distant.
He may have seemed odd to the family, but Daysha would later describe those early days of the relationship with a sense of longing for something lost.
Shortly after Daysha and Jeffrey had a son together, Daysha recalled a night years earlier, "a beautiful night, and the sky was picture perfect and the stars were shining on us like we were on the set of a movie."
"My hair was blowing in the breeze and he stroked his fingers through my hair, and I remember him telling me, 'You are the most beautiful girl in the world,' " she wrote. "The reason why I remember it so well was that is the last, most romantic thing that he has ever been to me.
"We had so many wonderful times together that I would hate for it to be the last."
After reading Daysha's journals, Daysha's older brother, Waylen, said he has accepted that he will never know what was between Jeffrey and Daysha. That part of her life was always closed to the family, but even when she broke up with him after years of abuse, Daysha wrote that she would love him forever.
A 40-page guide to help journalists, photojournalists and editors report on violence while protecting both victims and themselves.
This documentary, available online and on DVD, features a wide range of Australian journalists their recounting experiences covering traumatic stories.
Your contributions help the Dart Center nurture informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy worldwide.
The Dart Center is a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.