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Pacific Islander community desperate for answers in unsolved deaths

Family members and friends of Chynna Toilolo participate in the sixth annual In Heels 2 Heal domestic violence walk at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City on Oct. 31, 2020. This year's event will shine the light on three other Pacific Islander women who died. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — This weekend, dozens of men will turn out for a walk in high heels at the International Peace Gardens to raise awareness about domestic violence in Polynesian communities.

As part of their Domestic Violence Awareness Month efforts, nonprofit Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources highlights one unsolved case of violence against Polynesian women. However, they will be focusing on three cases this year.

Right now, families in Utah's Pacific Islander community are desperate for answers after the deaths of three women. All are unsolved, and cases that their loved ones say deserve more attention.

A victim's advocate told KSL they're not sure if overall violence against women in the Polynesian community is going up, but three cases are unusual and deserve the community's attention.

The serenity you feel at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City is fitting of its name. However, on Saturday, it's the clickety-clack of heels that you'll hear — specifically, men in heels.

"I think the first year we did it we had six men. Now, we have hundreds of men," said Susi Feltch-Malohifo'ou, founder of Pacific Island Knowledge to Action Resources.

The Heels To Heal Walk, sponsored by the Pacific Island Knowledge to Action Resources, is designed to raise awareness about domestic violence, in light of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Men are invited to walk in support of victims and survivors of domestic violence.

"It's an actionable item that men can stand with the women. There's a lot of really good synergy that happens," Feltch-Malohifo'ou said.

As part of this year's walk, Feltch-Malohifo'ou is putting the spotlight on the deaths of three Polynesian women, including two unsolved homicide cases.

Those three cases "have never been solved. Nobody is paying their crime," Feltch-Malohifo'ou said.

Feltch-Malohifo'ou said the cases are more than she has seen in previous years.

"Last year we had one case — Chynna Toilolo's. Now we have three," said Feltch-Malohifo'ou. "So I ask myself so next year at this walk, do we end up having more females, with more unanswered deaths?"

The three cases highlighted during this year's walk include the unsolved deaths of Akosita Kaufusi and Katherine Blaire Leavitt, as well as the death of Ana Sisifa Ataata.

Ataata's sister, Angelica Naeata, is advocating to have her death this past January investigated as a murder.

"All I know is that my sister didn't commit suicide," Naeata said. According to Naeata, authorities ruled the death as a suicide due to post-partum depression. According to Naeata, Ataata's body was found on the side of the road on northbound I-15 and authorities determined she jumped from an overpass.

"No change happens without advocacy and without the community saying there is something wrong here," Feltch-Malohifo'ou said.

In addition to the walk, the Pacific Island Knowledge to Action Resources will also host their annual KAVA Talks dinner and fundraiser on Friday night. KAVA Talks is a male-focused peer support group that seeks to eliminate violence in Polynesian communities through education and resources.

Domestic violence resources

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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Garna Mejia

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