Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of our “whistleblower” series based on the new book by called Peter Boy written by Lillian Koller. The article featured today is the introduction to the book by former Hawaii State Senator, Fred Hemmings.
I first met Lillian B. Koller, J.D., in January 2003, when, as a senior Senator in the Hawai’i State Senate, I voted to confirm Lillian’s appointment, by Linda Lingle, the new Hawai’i State Governor, who appointed Lillian to serve at the helm of Hawai’i’s second largest State agency, the Department of Human Services (DHS), from 2003 to 2010. Lillian’s systemic reforms to Child Protective
Services have kept Hawai’i as best in the nation for years. Accolades from the federal government and important child welfare organizations flowed to Lillian, including the U.S. Administration on Children, Youth and Families’ “2007 Commissioner’s Award” for exceptional contributions to preventing and treating child abuse and neglect, and Governing magazine’s prestigious “2008 Public Official of the Year” award for achievements in child welfare services and Medicaid. After her success creating similar positive results as those she made in Hawai’i, Lillian received the distinguished 2013 “Casey Excellence in Leadership” award for achieving improved outcomes in child welfare in both Hawai’i and South Carolina.
But awards never meant much to Lillian. She just wants to make the world a better place, which is her life’s goal, as a child of Holocaust survivors. After retiring from public service two years ago, Lillian found herself still haunted by a particularly tragic “cold” case from 1997, a case that was already “cold” when she took office in 2003. It’s the case of Peter J. Kema, Jr., who is lovingly called “Peter Boy” throughout Hawai’i. This is Hawai’i’s most notorious, unsolved, child murder case. ABC News recently reported, on December 1, 2016: “The Big Island boy in the late 1990s and early 2000s became the face of a campaign for missing and abused children. Posters and bumper stickers asked, ‘Where’s Peter Boy?’”
Ironically, in fact Peter Boy has been dead since 1997 – he was never “missing” at all. Peter Boy was only six years old when he disappeared in 1997 and is, since June 2000, presumed dead. Peter Boy’s mother and father had a long history with Child Protective Services (CPS) in Hawai’i prior to Peter Boy’s disappearance. Lillian tells Peter Boy’s story faithfully, based entirely on the actual, official CPS records that Lillian publicly disclosed on the Department’s website in 2005, as well as three separate letters, one from each of Peter Boy’s surviving siblings, which Lillian obtained and added to her public disclosure in 2007.
Not until 19 years after Peter Boy vanished, and 11 years after Lillian’s unprecedented public disclosure of CPS records, did Peter Boy’s parents finally get criminally indicted for murdering their young son. Lillian’s aim has always been to wake up the authorities, whom she believed had become complacent and failed to prosecute the only suspected perpetrators for Peter Boy’s “disappearance” – his murder – by his own mother and father.
Now, in her book series, Lillian critically exposes and explores the disturbing details of the multiple mistakes that failed to protect Peter Boy and his three young siblings. By calling attention to the otherwise unknown errors that occurred in Peter Boy’s case, Lillian seeks to prevent such mistakes from being made again, and again, in Hawai’i and in the “systems” to protect children, everywhere.
While this book series does identify the things that went wrong in Peter Boy’s case, exposing these things for needed reforms to be made, I can assure every reader that Lillian is not personally condemning any person officially involved with Peter Boy’s case, from 1991 to 1999. Rather, Lillian is making an important point about how fallible well-intended people can be when handling a case of child abuse and neglect. Lillian should know. She’s been there and done that. Lillian’s humility is everywhere in this book series, every time she shines a light on something that could have been done better.
I am glad that Lillian chose to write this incredible book series. It takes courage. And it takes hope.
If the lessons exposed by Lillian’s book series – the lessons yet to be learned from Peter Boy’s heartbreaking story – are taken to heart by public officials everywhere, then Peter Boy’s legacy will be a positive one. Peter Boy’s short and tragic life will prevent many other children from needlessly suffering, and even save children’s lives.