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Hawaii Cafe Employee Helps Save Missing Teen Abducted At Knifepoint

Duncan Kealoha Mahi allegedly forced 15-year-old Mikella Debina at knifepoint to tie up her boyfriend before kidnapping her. The girl's disappearance sparked the island's first Amber Alert, which helped one attentive restaurant worker recognize the victim. 

By Jax Miller
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A15-year-old girl violently taken from a Hawaii beach was rescued by a kindly restaurant worker after convincing her alleged abductor to buy her a meal.

Duncan Kealoha Mahi, 52, was arrested in Hilo — on the east side of Hawaii's big island — on Saturday for the kidnapping of a 15-year-old girl, according to the Hawai’i Police Department.

Authorities said the teenager, whom they identified as Mikella Debina, was last seen at around 1:30 p.m. on Friday near Waikoloa Beach Drive at Anaeho’omalu Bay Beach, on Hawai’i island’s northwest coast.

The victim’s aunt, Laurene Debina, told Hawaii News Now that the alleged captor approached Debina and her boyfriend with a knife, making the girl subdue her partner before taking off.

“He had my niece tie up her boyfriend, blindfold him, and then [he] took her,” said Laurene.

The abduction prompted the island’s first-ever Amber Alert, according to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

A police handout of Duncan Kealoha Mahi

According to Laurene Debina, investigators first tracked the teen’s cell phone near the Kona airport some 20 miles away, where they found it abandoned with the dress the teenager had been wearing and her bag.

After 20 hours of land area and air searches, Debina was rescued by attentive restaurant workers at Hilo’s Cafe Pesto on the island’s eastern shore — on the opposite side of the island, about 70 miles east of the beach from which the teen had been kidnapped.

The victim’s mother, Cherese “Cher” Angelel, told News Now that employees, whom she referred to as “heroes,” saved her daughter when they “ripped her from her abductor.”

Angelel told Fox Honolulu affiliate KHON-TV that her daughter convinced her alleged abductor to take her to get a bite to eat and then attempted to escape. Mahi then allegedly physically tried to restrain Debina, prompting a cafe host to jump in and intervene.

RELATED: Georgia Mom Who Messaged Daughter About Being Kidnapped Found Dead In Ravine

The host, identified as Bridge Hartman, said he noticed something was “off” when seeing Debina and Mahi twice approaching the host’s station at the restaurant, according to Hawaii News Now and then start to get in a physical altercation. According to Hartman, the man tried passing Debina off as his daughter.

“Even if it wasn’t her, my brain was like, ‘I need to get her,’” said Hartman. “Then I realized it was her,” Hartman stated. “And I yelled out, ‘That’s the girl! That’s the Amber Alert girl!’”

Hartman seized his opportunity to grab Debina during a brief moment when Mahi allegedly released his grip, hurrying the victim to the back of the restaurant.

Another witness, a local artist known as Artist Dragonfly, also witnessed the altercation.

“All of a sudden, I can hear a girl screaming, ‘Help! Help! Leave me alone!’” said the artist. “And then here comes this guy dragging her.”

A woman eating at the cafe reported seeing Debina wearing men’s clothes, which she found “strange,” and, after the altercation, helped her call her mother.

Hawai’i Police arrived at the scene, though Mahi was already gone. Although she appeared shaken up, they said the teen was “in good health.”

“The Hawai’i Police Department would like to express a heartfelt mahalo to the Hawai’i Fire Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, our private partners and the countless community members who came together in a concerted effort, allocating numerous resources to this investigation and working tirelessly to locate Mikella,” stated police.

Authorities soon issued a warrant for Mahi’s arrest, charging him with kidnapping and other outstanding warrants. They noted he was last seen in downtown Hilo operating a white Honda CRV, and referred to Mahi as armed and dangerous.”

About four hours later, police announced his arrest.

Police say the investigation is ongoing and ask anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers at 1-808-961-8300.