HILO, Hawai'i — From the time she was a little girl, Daysha Aiona-Aka kept journals, writing in them almost every night. Her family would give her new journals as gifts, knowing she could always use another.
She decorated the margins with butterflies, and recorded stories of her life with her boyfriend, Jeffrey Santos Jr., and her baby, Day'Rey, in her neat, careful script.
"I cannot believe how extremely fast he's growing," she wrote of Day'Rey shortly after his birth. "He is very observant and mellow nowadays. He still grumbles here and there, but not very often. He's beginning to laugh a little, and he knows our voices, so that's a good thing. ... But he is so adorable and I am much grateful to have him in our lives. He is the most happiest thing that ever happened to me."
After Jeffrey murdered Daysha, her family found a stack of blank journals left behind in her room, volumes and volumes of empty pages she had meant to fill. She has missed much in the two years since she was killed.
Day'Rey is now 4, and his family changed his name. He has been adopted by his great-grandparents, Bev and Tommy Akimseu, and shortly before Halloween he was dressed up as Superman and jazzed with excitement, scampering across the carpet in a cape, posing for pictures and mixing it up with his cousins.
"Annie!" he called, trying to get the attention of Bev. "Annie" is short for "auntie," and is the name Daysha always used for Bev.
Like Daysha, Day'Rey has won his Annie's heart, and she fusses over him. He has been known to appear at his baby sitter's house early in the morning with a big grin and a popsicle in each fist. When Bev isn't around, Day'Rey sometimes announces, "I want my Annie." He is a restless, high-octane boy, and family members marveled recently when he sat quietly through a candlelight vigil in Hilo to remember his mother and other victims of drunken drivers and violence. Daysha's mother, Donna Weber, joked that the sight of a row of solemn, uniformed police officers at the ceremony in front of Day'Rey may have discouraged any squirming.
He is the focus of much energy in the family. When Day'Rey moved into Bev's house with Daysha before the murder, Bev was shocked to hear the 2-year-old casually call his mother a "bitch." Daysha explained he had learned it from his father, Jeffrey.
Later, after Daysha was killed, Day'Rey was uncontrollable for a time, Bev said. He would yank on the hair of his cousins, pulling them down. "He would come and just hit us, and he would throw things across the room ... because of the father, flying things," Bev said. "We really calmed him down."
"Sometimes, you can see how angry he is," she said.
Daysha foresaw some of this. As the violence with Jeffrey grew worse, Daysha prepared herself to leave Jeffrey, and wrote about her fears for her son in one of her journals.
"You know it saddens me because we've been through a lot together and now we have a son to think about, but I cannot put up with all the abuse," she wrote. "My life is threatened by him, and now I'm just so afraid for my son. Not being abused, but I'm afraid that he's gonna grow up in the eyes of his father if nothing happens."
Day'Rey saw too much the day his father shot his mother in the rainforest off the Stainback Highway, and things he has said suggest he had some degree of understanding of what he saw.
It can be unnerving. Family members may be watching TV with the kids running around and playing, and suddenly Day'Rey will start talking about it, saying "Oh, my mommy fall down, daddy make blood, bang, bang," Donna said. Family members have been working with a counselor to learn how to help Day'Rey cope with his loss, and his memories.
Daysha's sister, Cassie Kamai, said Daysha's murder helped bring the rest of the family closer together, and "now we realize that her son is most important right now. He had a lot of needs."
Jeffrey himself came from a violent home, and "you've got to break that cycle, you have to break it," Cassie said. "If you keep doing it, it's going to be repeated, and repeated, and repeated and repeated."
Dreaming of a better life
Shortly before she was killed, Daysha went out on the town with her older brother, Waylen Leopoldino, and they sang songs and drank and had fun. Waylen grew tired and left at about midnight, but Daysha wanted to stay out longer.
For some reason Waylen woke up at about 5 a.m., and realized Daysha still wasn't home. He got worried and tried to call her. At first she didn't answer, but then she picked up, laughing.
Waylen asked what was so funny, and she told him she was downtown watching the vendors at the Hilo farmer's market unload produce and set up shop under their tarps. What else can a young person do in Hilo town when you aren't ready to go home?
Daysha had planned to leave little Hilo for bigger things. She told her former boss she planned to move to Honolulu to work at a Safeway on O'ahu. She told family she planned to move to Seattle, and told friends she planned to marry her soldier boyfriend and head for the Mainland to join him. She had plans.
She left behind a hole in her family. When Daysha was with her kin, things sort of revolved around her, Waylen said. She was lighthearted and silly, and he would wait impatiently for her to come home from work to liven things up.
"You can tell when somebody like that is missing; you always want her to be home," he said.
Daysha's grandmother, Bev, said that since Daysha's body was burned, the family never saw her, and never got to say goodbye. Bev struggled to describe what they experienced.
"You read it in the paper, and you don't know, you really don't know the hurt the family goes through. All these years you read about stories, and you just cannot imagine," Bev said, the Hilo rain pounding on the roof of her Waiakea home. "Now I see girls around her age, and it just breaks my heart."
"I think they need to be told, these young girls, the first time it happens, you need to end the relationship right then," she said. "It's not going to get better. The minute somebody hurts you, end it, because as it gets more and more involved, that's how Jeffrey thought he owned her, and then they cannot get out because they threaten their lives."
For Daysha's youngest sister, Breeanna Aiona-Aka, "nothing has been the same after my sister died." Daysha looked out for Breeanna, providing a sympathetic ear and a knowing smile when Breeanna had boy problems.
Breeanna, 16, inherited many of Daysha's clothes, and she has pictures of her, and memories. But sitting at her family's kitchen table in Puna two years after the murder, Breeanna cried all over again. It just isn't enough, she said.
"It's not being able to see her face, not being able to see her smile except for pictures, not being able to hear her voice at all, being able to call her cell phone, knowing that it's turned off," Breeanna said. "She was the one I always talked to about how I was feeling, whether I had problems with Mom, Dad, my brother, sisters, or school problems.
"The most thing that hurts is, whenever I see my nephew, and I look at him, I can just see her smiling," Breeanna said.
Daysha's mother, Donna Weber, still has trouble sleeping. She tosses and turns, and cannot help thinking of Daysha.
Two years after the murder, Donna keeps Daysha's ashes in her home in a polished wooden box, still unable to bury her daughter. "I'm not too sure what I'm waiting for," she said.
Pushing a grandson in a stroller in the carport of her Hilo home, and bending down to coo at the boy, Donna said she finds some solace in baby-sitting her daughters' children. "If I didn't have my grandkids, I think I would be in the crazy house already."
Donna testified at Jeffrey's minimum term hearing before the Hawai'i Paroling Authority, and looking at Jeffrey she said she saw "no remorse, no nothing. Always his same smile."
Jeffrey, 25, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and a firearms charge on Aug. 3, 2007. The Paroling Authority imposed an extraordinarily high minimum term of 100 years.
Unless Jeffrey can convince his keepers to reconsider, he will die in prison.
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