IMR: 1999: November: 02 — Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

 [ CNN ]
 [ Fox News ]
The entire state of Hawai`i is really just a small town at heart.

Like a small town, the only thing that ever puts us on the map — literally here, as we're usually omitted from the infographics of America — is a great tragedy.

And like a small town, that tragedy overwhelms the collective consciousness, the local media whipped into a frothing frenzy while the hapless citizenry squints and cringes in the glaring light of the national media.

It brings out the best, but mostly the worst, of everyone.

This morning, an employee at the local Xerox service center turned up at work and shot — I mean, allegedly shot — seven of his coworkers dead.

For hours no one knew where the gunman went, prompting an evacuation at the Xerox corporate center just down the street from my office. The suspect was eventually tracked down, sitting in the van near a park in Makiki Heights, less than a mile mauka of our apartment. After a five-hour standoff with Honolulu police, he surrendered peacefully, and now faces seven counts of murder and undoubtedly more charges in "the worst mass murder in the history of Hawaii."

Police formally released the suspect's identity when he was arrested: 40-year-old Bryan "Byran" Uyesugi, who worked with Xerox as a repairman for almost 15 years.

But of course the local media had it almost immediately, and uttered it at every opportunity. True to form, KHNL (a.k.a. Nintendo News, unbelievably the local NBC affiliate) crossed the line first this morning. The license number of the van (GRC 064) and his address (2835 Easy St. — yes, seriously) soon followed. Then a rundown of the ages and titles of the seven dead men as well as — incredulously — the numbers and ages of their children.

This before police had found him in the hills, before they could be sure they were hunting the right man. Before the families of the victims could be notified.

I mean, how anonymous is a 46-year-old male Xerox manager with a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son?

News coverage and lobby gossip about the affair was quickly unavoidable. As police negotiators were still working with Uyesugi, reporters unearthed volumes about the man.

Photos of Uyesugi from the Roosevelt High School yearbook were soon on every channel. A member of the RHS boys' rifle team back in 1975, today the registered owner of 17 guns. (His application for number 18 was apparently rejected in 1994.) A previous arrest for criminal property damage at the Xerox office. His employers even reported called in crisis management counselors a few years ago, after Uyesugi allegedly threatened his coworkers with drawings of workplace shootings.

From local television stations, to dueling newspaper websites (the Star-Bulletin's afternoon run trumped the 'Tiser in the print arena), to CNN, the story was both shocking and yet familiar. Once again, we heard words like "quiet," "reclusive," early rumblings about "warning signs," and more than anything, surprise that something so awful "could happen here."

We can't help but say it, I guess. As ridiculous, as naieve as it sounds to the rest of the world.

Topping my list of inexcusable bastards tonight (besides the Xerox employee who must have been leaking information to the press) is Jeremy Harris, pandering, spineless, attention-mongering mayor of Honolulu. Before the bodies were even pulled from the Xerox building along Nimitz Highway, he was out there, in front of the cameras across the street, pounding on the sunshine-and-light button, hoping to both save Hawaii from a tourism recession and get a thousand skate parks' worth of political exposure.

"Forget the dead guys, this is nothing," he essentially said. "Our crime rate is the lowest in the nation, things couldn't be better, come on over and we'll show you a good time!"

And the thing is, Harris is a puny gnat when it comes to "the cycle of spin." His opportunistic posturing is not only grossly exploitative, it's pointless. In the end, Dateline NBC will write its version of this story into history, not Harris. And it won't be pretty.

Oh, how Ted Turner and the networks must love this turn of events. Fox News (the biggest oxymoron in media) beat everyone to the punch with a colorful logo, crafting a name for the tragedy: "Massacre in Paradise."

How perfect, how poignant a period this now puts at the end of the sentence that magically sums up what's wrong with America. Paducah, Springfield, Littleton, Fort Worth, Honolulu. Yes, Honolulu!

  Shooting Victims:
Jason Balatico – 33
Ron Kawamae – 54
Ford Kanehira – 41
Ron Kataoka – 50
Melvin Lee – 58
Peter Mark – 46
John Sakamoto – 36
The seven victims, their families, even Uyesugi... all their lives are now twisted into a big club people can exploit to prove their disparate points. It's inevitable. But it's still sad.

And while the journalist in me will have lots to talk about for the next few weeks, the parent in me is suddenly speechless. In a few years, my arsenal of punditry will be useless in trying to explain the ugliness in a supposedly promising, beautiful universe.

It will be a long time before this tragedy fades away. CNN and NBC have both dispatched teams to Honolulu for on-the-spot coverage, and more will follow. With Uyesugi alive and in custody — unusual given Hawaii criminals' tendency of getting killed or killing themselves — we're guaranteed weeks of hearings and court proceedings. And for every word uttered by lawyers and judges, millions more will pour out the mouths of psychiatrists, sociologists, experts, analysts, and politicians.

KHNL tonight already aired an hour-long "Special Edition" report on the shootings. Every media outlet has produced a rundown of past prominent killings in Hawaii. Orlando Ganal Jr. in August 1991. John Miranda in February 1996.

Prof. Brislin has already been tapped as a mass media expert, quickly seizing on "Massacre in Paradise" as an example of the lunacy of breaking news, and will no doubt have a lot more to say as the story continues to unfold.

As it turns out, the tragedy did create a bittersweet opportunity for Wayne, back in Hawaii two months and still job hunting. Thanks to a referral from Donica, he was tapped this morning by the Washington Post, covering the shooting for them as a freelancer. A byline won't buy lunch, but it's an invaluable boost for his resumé.

I guess even the darkest cl...

What the hell am I saying?

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 02 November 1999 · Last Modified: 10 November 1999