A Week Missing: New Video Shows Amanda Eller at Ha‘ikū Market
By Wendy Osher
The search for 35-year-old Amanda Eller is now rounding out week one, with still no signs of the physical therapist and yoga instructor. She was last seen by her boyfriend, Benjamin Konkol, who said Eller was meditating when he left for work at around 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019.
This morning surveillance images were released of what appears to be Eller’s vehicle parked outside of the Haʻikū Market, and surveillance imagery within the store of Eller purchasing items on the day she went missing. In the images, the driver is seen wearing a seatbelt with a light colored tank top. Within the store, images show Eller with her hair up in a bun, wearing: a light colored tank top; long, dark colored fitted pants; dark rubber slippers; and a criss-cross back design light colored inner top. Administrators say she bought a few snacks, not groceries (later described as boxes of dry tea and an energy bar) and that no one was observed with her.
An update on the Findamanda Facebook page states that the footage of Eller shopping in the market is at 10:11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 8, 2019, before she went to the post office. (This was updated following a correction of an earlier post issued on the Findamanda Facebook page, with a later time).
Video is now being sought outside of the post office to determine which way she turned (toward home or toward the forest) and any footage along those routes.
911 Call Received From Above Makawao Forest on May 14, 2019:
Maui police say they received a 9-1-1 call from an area above the Makawao Forest Reserve yesterday (Tuesdsay, May 14, 2019), about possible additional information relating to the investigation involving Amanda Eller. Maui Police Lt. Gregg Okamoto said police and fire personnel responded with a helicopter and rescue crew to search by air and foot. In addition, the Police Department brought in additional search dogs from Oʻahu to assist. Rescue crews made it up almost two miles above the Kahakapao Trail before turning around due to the loss of daylight on Tuesday night, May 14, 2019. The search resumed today (Wednesday, May 15, 2019) at first light. Police say the case is still classified as a Missing Person until information is received to indicate otherwise.
Search Today Focused on Water:
Today volunteers are focusing their search on waterfalls and areas of the Makawao Forest where there may be bodies of water. “Somebody gave us one of us probably one of the best tips that we could have gotten last night. And it was such a ‘no-duh,'” said Sarah Haynes in a phone interview this morning. Haynes has been fielding press inquiries and updates for the volunteer search effort via the Findamanda Facebook page.
“Somebody said: ‘I have this thought, we go hiking a lot. We always take our cell phone and our keys; but every time we hike to a waterfall where we can swim, we hide our keys and we leave our cell phone in the car,'” said Haynes.
Police say Eller’s Toyota RAV4 was found in a parking lot of the Makawao Forest Reserve on Thursday, May 9, 2019, an area where she is known to frequent and run. Maui Fire Department officials said the vehicle was confirmed to have been there since around noon the day before. According to a missing person flyer being distributed, Eller’s keys were found hidden under the driver’s side front tire and her wallet, cell phone and belongings were within the vehicle.
“We need to go toward water. We need to focus our search less toward caves, and more toward swimming areas,” said Haynes during a phone interview with Maui Now’s Wendy Osher this morning. “And of course, we’ve canvassed everything, but if you’re going to a waterfall, you could slip on a rock… She did unplug often, but why hide her key? We don’t know what she was wearing. Maybe she didn’t have pockets. She left her backpack in the car. Those are all potentially signals that she wanted to swim, and there’s waterholes throughout the area. So we are very focused on water that one could immerse themselves in.”
Haynes said volunteers go through more than 1,000 messages per day, and those helping have since established a Tips Chain to better organize leads received.
Volunteers say it was raining in the area this morning. “It’s not comfortable for her if she’s out there, but it will sustain her life. She might get three weeks without food, no problem. So, we’re only a week in and we’re going to keep searching until we find her,” said Haynes.
Boyfriend Works in Construction:
Maui Now has reached out to Ben Konkol on at least two occasions, but has been unsuccessful to date. We sought information from Haynes, who granted us a follow-up phone interview this morning.
When asked what type of work Eller’s boyfriend does for a living, Haynes said, “He works in construction. He works at multiple locations. His boss, Jerrod, who is my neighbor, which is how I know the both of them, generally takes jobs that are pretty long–you know, a month building somebody’s ʻohana, that kind of thing.”
She continued saying, “So that’s part of how I know them also, I hired them to work on a building here. So I don’t know who picked him up. I haven’t had a chance to ask him that because he’s been in the forest for the most part. I know that somebody picked him up, and that made sense to me, because I know that a friend of his crashed his car recently. So, I’m not sure why he got picked up, but I didn’t really worry about it because I knew about that,” said Haynes.
During a press conference held on Sunday, Konkol had mentioned that Eller had plans to meet up with somebody on May 8th, but that the plans got cancelled. We asked Haynes if she had further details.
“I don’t recall right now the name of the person,” said Haynes, “It wasn’t somebody I know, but we do have all of her texts and the police could probably tell you that. I’m not sure that it was via text, but I knew that Ben knew about it.”
Polygraph Conducted on Tuesday; “Clear Feedback Expected” from Police:
Since the investigation began, Konkol’s residence (which he shares with Eller) was searched by police. He also took a polygraph test on Tuesday, according to Haynes, who described Konkol as being “forthcoming” with information.
Maui Police Lt. Gregg Okamoto confirmed that Konkol did come in for an initial statement, and an additional interview, but could not say if he participated in a polygraph.
Lt. Okamoto said the FBI has offered to help and that additional search dogs are being flown in from off island today to assist in the search.
Haynes continued saying, “He handed them his phone and said download everything. I believe we’re going to have some very clear feedback from the police about their position on Ben, and I think it’s going to lead us to look for Amanda in the forest or abducted by a stranger. Well, I suppose it could be someone known to her as well. So we’ll let the police handle that today, but I think you may get an announcement,” said Haynes.
“We continue to believe that she’s either injured or she met foul play or somebody followed her there–something like that,” said Haynes. “We’re not naive. We know who the most likely person is in the average case. We’ve got two murder victims working on this: myself–my brother; and Kim [Kimberlyn] Scott–Charly. My brother’s from a stranger, we don’t know whom. Kim’s was the closest person to her daughter, the boyfriend. So, we’re not naive and we’ve helped many, many families. This is the worst club you’ll ever be in–this families of missing persons club, with the most knowledgeable, solid, helpful members [inaudible] ever meet,” said Haynes.
Mother’s Day Package Helps Refine Timeline:
So far, key findings include a package that was postmarked the day Eller went missing. It was addressed to her mom for Mother’s Day and was received by the pet sitter of her parents earlier this week. “It showed no signs of you know suicide or anything like that. Normal Mother’s Day card. Actually, a very sweet longer letter,” Haynes said.
According to Haynes, the package had a print-at-home label, but it was handed to workers at the counter. “She was at the Haʻikū Post Office at 10:19 a.m. on the day she went missing,” said Haynes.
“We do know for sure that she left alone at least in the front seat (It’s a little hard to see the back of the car) [from] the Haiku Post Office area at 10:21, two minutes after the package was mailed,” said Haynes. “She was headed out of the lot, but the camera faces the mall. So we can see the car start to leave, but we can’t see if it turned left or right. If it turned left–just minutes from home. If it turned right, not much for her to do besides go toward the forest,” said Haynes.
“On the morning of her disappearance, her boyfriend said she was meditating when he left she was in her sleep clothing… She seemed like she was in good spirits. Her letter to her mom talked about how much she loved her, like most Mother’s Day cards, but also talked about her future and how happy she was. So we really feel confident that she was having a normal, nice day and something has interrupted her. We still feel really strongly that she could be in the forest, injured. In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s a far more likely choice, you know,” said Haynes.
Work Calendar Turned Over to Police:
“In another piece of good news, we were able to get a hold of her work calendar and she did have the day off on that day, but interestingly enough, she scheduled the post office at 10 a.m., so we believe that she thought ahead ‘what day and time do I need to mail this package in order to make sure it lands on my mother’s door step for Mother’s Day.’ That too makes us feel very confident that’s her in the car,” said Haynes.
Nest Video Footage Could Be Key:
The most important aspect in terms of trying to set a timeline, according to Haynes, is securing and reviewing video footage.
“There’s a company called Nest, I’m sure you’ve heard of Nest doorbells, and there are 100 of them in the area. They film 24-hours a day and they upload to a Cloud. We have reached out to the owner of the business and you know they loop, they delete footage in a week… They have retained that footage so that we have an opportunity to look at which of those 100 or so customers in the area, which if any, live on her route,” said Haynes.
Volunteers have obtained video from a house on the way to the forest toward the end up along a winding area of the road. The footage is clear and shows the street, but it’s from a great distance.
“There’s already been a couple cars go by that I was very confident could be her. [Then] we’d blow it up, but we could see it’s got a little you know black section on the fender or whatever. So we’re really working hard to see if we can corroborate our other evidence with this one. This is something that we’re going to have to look at 12 hours of footage that we’re trying to get a more narrow timeline from the businesses right outside of the post office so we can figure out if she went left or right.
Earlier, we reported witness accounts in which hikers reported seeing a woman they believed was Eller that morning in the Makawao Forest. But Haynes said a woman who looks like Amanda came forward and that witnesses have since acknowledged that they may have been mistaken.
There were also comments left by an area resident who indicated that she had seen someone with the same length and color hair as Amanda walking between mile marker 3 and 4 on Piʻiholo Road on Wednesday afternoon. “I was driving down and she was walking down on the left side of the road,” the witness wrote in a Facebook post during the live press conference feed. The witness said the woman pedestrian was not one of the usual neighborhood walkers, and struck her as being odd.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Amanda Eller is asked to immediately call the Maui Police Department at (808) 244-6400 or 9-1-1 in an emergency. Volunteer organizers say there is a $10,000 reward being offered for Eller’s safe return and encouraged those that have information to either call Maui police or CrimeStoppers at (808) 242-6966, if they want to remain anonymous.
Mayor Victorino releases statement on missing hiker:
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino expressed his concern today for missing hiker Amanda Eller.
“It’s hard to imagine the pain of family and friends of missing hiker Amanda Eller,” Mayor Victorino said. “My hope and prayer is that she is located soon and is safe and sound. Until then, Maui police and firefighters are working diligently to follow up on any new information.”