News Release

Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii

16. December 2022

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Social Media Commenters Asked to Think Before Posting

(WAILUKU) – Collaborative investigations by the Maui Police Department (MPD), and the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE), into last week’s disappearance of a 60-year-old Washington State woman off the south coast of Maui, classify the case differently but with the same basic conclusion.

A report from the DOCARE investigating officer found that, based on information from the woman’s husband and an eyewitness, her disappearance is classified as “shark attack-fatal.” The MPD report terms the disappearance as a “miscellaneous accident-fatal.”

On Dec. 8 officers responded to reports of a shark attack at the end of South Kihei Road fronting Keawakepu Beach. At that time, Maui County Ocean Safety lifeguards, Maui Fire and Emergency Services personnel, along with the U.S. Coast Guard were actively searching the water for “a missing female, possibly the victim of a shark bite,” according to the DOCARE report.

Officers interviewed the missing woman’s husband who said he encountered an “aggressive” shark shortly after entering the water to snorkel about 50-yards off-shore. He said he and his wife were not snorkeling right next to one another and he could only see her from time to time. As the shark continued to circle him he continued looking for his wife and thought that she might have been diving toward the ocean floor.

He told officers the shark swam off while he continued looking for his wife by popping his head out of the water and scanning the surface. He did spot something in the distance and then the shark came back, and he could see something red around the shark’s gills. At that time, he said people on the beach began yelling at him to get out of the water because a shark was feeding in the area.

The husband’s statement is corroborated by an eyewitness on the beach who said he saw a large shark feeding on something in the water. Earlier he’d spotted the couple snorkeling and began looking for them to warn them, “when he saw the shark’s large mouth continuing to feed on something in the middle of the red cloud in the water.” He continued yelling for the man to get out of the water but no longer was seeing the woman. This witness called 911 to report the incident.

DOCARE concluded that this was a tragic accident. It’s unfortunate that this family’s grief is exacerbated not only by not having their loved one’s body recovered, but by misinformation which spread quickly on social media platforms, suggesting that this was something other than what it was.

DLNR is asking people who post misinformation and conspiracy theories anonymously to stop and think about how they’d react if they were in the same situation. Social media can either be a powerful tool for sharing information or a mouthpiece for tremendously hurtful and inaccurate comments directed toward people who are dealing with a tragedy.

The department has noted this kind of behavior over and over online and is encouraging social media users to resist the urge to make comments before all the facts are known. Family members and friends often see these posts. Imagine if it was someone you knew and loved and how you’d feel?

Source: DLNR, Hawaii

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