By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Dana Ireland would have turned 43 on Dec. 12. But to those who remember her, she is suspended in time, forever young, fit, vibrant and beautiful.
The 23-year-old Virginia woman was riding a bicycle on Christmas Eve 1991 when she was intentionally run down by a car on Kapoho Kai Drive in Puna, then taken to a remote fishing trail in Waa Waa where she was beaten, raped and left to die.
Media accounts in the eight-plus years between the fatal attack and the convictions of three suspects focused mostly on the crime, and the real Dana Ireland may have been obscured by the details.
In a recent email from Virginia, Dana's older sister, Sandy Ireland, wrote that she and her mother, Louise, celebrated Dana's birthday with Dana's two best friends "to honor what a great daughter, sister and friend she was to all of us."
"She had an incredible light surrounding her and we are all fortunate to have known her," Sandy wrote. She described her sister as a "very kind, good natured and compassionate young woman" who was "shy around big groups of people but outgoing around her close friends and family."
"She was very open-minded and tolerant of other peoples' views and ideas," she wrote. "She was extremely healthy and athletic. She had a great passion for the ocean and enjoyed diving and surfing when she visited me in Hawaii. She loved wildlife and nature, and was an avid hiker and mountain biker. Like other young people, she had a great zest for life, and hoped she would one day afford to travel the world and experience other cultures and vistas as an explorer rather than as a tourist.
"When Dana came out to Hawaii to visit me, she had recently graduated from George Mason University in Virginia with a BS in Physical Education, and was thinking of returning to college to pursue an MS in Sports Physiology or Physical Therapy. While going to college and living at home she worked in a gym and saved up enough money to come out to Hawaii with the intention of having some fun and using the free time to think about the future and make decisions for a new chapter in her life. The future was unknown but there was so much possibility to look forward to."
Ireland's father, John, fought tirelessly to bring justice for Dana. He died in 2000, months after the convictions of those accused of raping and killing his younger daughter.
Sandy Ireland said that at least once a year, she and her mother visit the cemetery in Shipman, Va., where her father and sister are buried.
Louise Ireland is 87 and suffered a spinal fracture in a fall last year. Sandy Ireland said her mom is "doing OK," but is "at the stage in life where she needs some assistance." She recently moved out of the longtime family home and into an assisted-living facility.
"Before Dana's death, Christmas was always my mother's favorite time of year, and so I try to be with her because so much sadness is associated with this holiday for both of us," Sandy Ireland wrote.
Sandy Ireland said the years between the horrific attack and the convictions affected her family "emotionally, physically and financially."
"My parents felt obligated to return to the islands every year to pursue justice for my sister," she wrote. "I felt it was necessary to be there on the island with them whenever they were there and dropped what ever I was doing to do so. The return to the Big Island was always emotional and difficult, but the love and compassion from my friends and the community lessened our burden and helped to buoy our spirits."
Sandy Ireland said she thinks about Dana every day.
"I think about how wonderful it would be to have her here in this world participating in our lives," she wrote. "Unfortunately, the cliché that time and distance heal loss and tragedy did not prove true for me. When other personal or family crises arise they are more difficult to get through because the memories of the events surrounding Dana's death tend to surface and I react with dysfunction. That does not mean that I wallow in sadness and self pity, I still try and live life to its fullest but much of it is colored by what happened 20 years ago."
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.