Episode 059: Khiara Henry

October 24, 2022

A young woman disappears on a solo trip to Hawaii, leaving her belongings behind in an abandoned rental car. Three years later, the question remains: Where is Khiara?

Episode Media
Khiara Lavinia Henry (Find Khiara Henry Facebook)
Khiara Henry (Find Khiara Henry Facebook)
Khiara was last seen on surveillance video at the Hertz Rental facility on July 21, 2019 (Find Khiara Henry Facebook)
Khiara’s belongings as found in the rental car (The Vanished Podcast)
Route Khiara would have traveled from the rental agency to the state park (Google Maps)
Map of Wai’anapanapa State Park (Google Maps)
Lot next to the ranger station where Khiara’s rental car was found (Google Maps)
Friends and family holding a rally for Khiara on Maui (Find Khiara Henry Facebook)
Khiara’s distinctive tattoos (Find Khiara Henry Facebook)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a missing persons case from the islands of Hawaii, a case that can still be solved with the right information. Pictures and maps of the various locations mentioned in this episode are available on the podcast website.

Khiara Lavinia Henry was born in San Diego, California, to Kevin and Monica Henry. One of four siblings, Khiara was close to her family, and she took pride in her mixed heritage, embracing both the African American and Native American communities around her. Even when the family moved to Nevada, Khiara always felt a strong connection to Southern California, and she eventually moved back to San Diego after high school. There, she enrolled with the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, one of five indigenous groups native to the San Diego area.

Although Khiara was close to her family and her community, she also had an independent streak that those around her admired. Khiara wasn’t afraid to try new things, and she was always up for an adventure. She thrived in the outdoors and was an avid hiker and rock climber.

Khiara started taking college classes online, but she soon realized that it wasn’t the path for her. She needed the freedom to travel and connect with nature. Her mom described her as a bit of a hippie, and her family supported her as she explored her various passions and interests.

In the summer of 2019, 23-year-old Khiara was gearing up for a solo trip to Hawaii. She was looking forward to hiking in the many national parks and exploring the beautiful beaches, taking surfing lessons and group tours around the islands. Her plan was to start on the island of Oahu and stay for a few days, then decide where she wanted to go from there. She didn’t really have a set itinerary, but that was par for the course with Khiara. She would know what she wanted to do when she got there.

On July 11, 2019, Khiara flew from San Diego to Honolulu. Once there, she let her family know she had arrived safely. They heard from her again a few days later, and it sounded like she was really enjoying herself. But after that, the family says she stopped responding to calls and texts. They had noticed that her usually-blue iPhone messages had turned green since arriving in Hawaii, an indication that she may have had poor phone reception on the island. The family figured she would call again when she had a better connection.

But Khiara didn’t call. In fact, it would be over two weeks before the family heard anything, and what they did hear was shocking – Khiara’s belongings had been found in an abandoned car on the island of Maui.

Khiara’s sister Thea immediately called the Maui Police Department and reported Khiara missing. Then, the family booked their own flights to Hawaii to begin the search.

The timeline of Khiara’s movements during her time in Hawaii is mysterious, mainly due to how straightforward it is. There doesn’t seem to be any one moment that things went wrong.

On July 11th, Khiara flew into Honolulu and checked herself into a hotel. She spent a few days exploring the island of Oahu before booking a flight to Maui on July 17th. There, she stayed at a hotel for one night before checking into the Aston Maui Hill Resort on the 18th. Again, her family says this is typical of Khiara’s style of traveling – she would often move from one location to another based on where she felt like being that day.

Based on the reservation, Khiara planned to stay at the Aston Resort from the 18th through the 21st. During her time there, she interacted with multiple people at the resort, and everyone said she was happy and outgoing. Staff members recalled how friendly she was, and she seemed to be enjoying her vacation.

Khiara also booked several group tours. On July 19th, she took a bus tour with Hana Tours of Maui, which included a scenic drive around the island and a stop at Waiʻānapanapa State Park. On July 20th, she hiked Twin Falls at Wailele Farm with the Hike Maui tour company. On both tours, Khiara showed interest in her surroundings, and her fellow travelers commented on how upbeat and friendly she was.

On the morning of July 21st, Khiara checked out of the Aston Maui Hill Resort as scheduled. She asked the staff if she could use the hotel’s computer, which she used to book a flight home for July 29th. Then, she attempted to book a vacation rental at Sugar Beach Resort – just a few miles down the beach – for July 22nd through the 29th. I say “attempted” because the owner emailed her back and said that the rental was unavailable; however, it’s not clear when that email came through or whether Khiara ever saw it. While using the hotel’s computer, Khiara also booked a rental car for one night, to be picked up at the airport that afternoon and returned the following day.

Khiara then left the resort and took a cab to the Kahului Airport, where she picked up a black 2018 Nissan Sentra from the Hertz Rental Car facility. She is seen on surveillance footage in the rental office and then behind the wheel of the vehicle as she drove it out of the airport parking lot at 2pm on July 21st.

Two days later, on July 23rd, officials at Waiʻānapanapa State Park noticed a black Nissan Sentra parked in the gravel lot next to the ranger station. They noted that the vehicle appeared to be abandoned, but they did not contact the authorities until July 25th. When they did report it, the police had it towed back to the rental company the next day.

Hertz employees in charge of cleaning out the vehicle discovered Khiara’s personal belongings scattered throughout the car. Her big duffel bag lay on the backseat, and the clothing she had last been seen wearing – a black shirt and black jeans – had been tossed on the floorboard, as if she had changed clothes in the backseat. Her shoes and socks were found on the floorboard in the front, and tucked inside the center console, Khiara’s driver’s license and credit card lay undisturbed. Conspicuously missing were Khiara’s cell phone, the black backpack she had been seen wearing, and the keys to the rental car.

At this point, Khiara hadn’t been seen for five days.

According to the family, it was an employee at Hertz who first reached out to them, letting them know that Khiara’s belongings had been found inside the abandoned vehicle. At this point, Khiara’s sister Thea contacted the police in Maui and filed a missing persons report.

On July 28th, the Maui Police Department posted a public plea, asking anyone with information about Khiara’s disappearance to come forward. Members of the local community volunteered to help search the park, and the family was grateful for the support. In an interview with local news outlet Maui Now, Khiara’s father Kevin said, “It definitely humbled us to know that there are a lot of people out there that care about Kihara and that’s searching for her, we’re so grateful and appreciative of everything, all the support we’ve gotten.”

As search teams scoured the island, investigators worked through various scenarios to determine what may have happened to Khiara. In the surveillance footage from the hotel and the rental company, Khiara seemed cheerful, not under duress. She had been alone in the car when she drove it out of the airport. It appeared that Khiara had left on her own accord.

The mileage on the rental car reflected the exact distance needed to travel from the Kahului Airport to the Waiʻānapanapa State Park. Because of the remote location, there really is only one direct route – Khiara would have made the two-hour drive via Highway 36 and then Highway 360, the Hana Highway. It’s possible that she may have stopped along the way to take in the views, but the mileage shows that she didn’t veer from the path.

Investigators considered the possibility that Khiara had met up with someone at the park. After all, she had met multiple people during her time on the island, including fellow hikers on the group tours she had taken. Her outgoing nature easily helped her make friends, and she may have arranged to meet someone for a hike. When investigators reached out to those who had gone on the bus tour with Khiara, they said she had shown great interest in Waiʻānapanapa when they’d visited on July 19th – it made sense that she would want to go back there. But if detectives made any connection between Khiara and a fellow hiker, they haven’t said.

Another theory that Khiara’s family has brought up is that Khiara met a group of people at the park and left with them. In a video posted to Facebook, her mother Monica said, “She is a spontaneous woman and it would be not unlike her to have a change in plans.” Khiara could have intended to spend time at the park alone, then changed her mind and gone off with someone else to a different location. But if that was the case, why would she leave her things behind? She wouldn’t be able to get off the island without her ID, and she certainly wouldn’t get far without her credit card. Even if she did have her cell phone with her, which we can assume since it wasn’t in the rental car, it hasn’t been used since she disappeared.

And the cell phone itself is a bit of a mystery. Khiara’s phone pinged on a tower in Oahu on July 12th, the day after she arrived in Hawaii. According to the family, Khiara called them from her cell on July 13th. After that, there was no activity at all until July 21st, when it made a brief connection to WiFi at the Aston Maui Hill resort around 11am. It seems strange to me that a single woman on vacation thousands of miles away from her family would completely turn off her phone for a week. I could see not making phone calls if the connection was weak, but the places she was staying had free WiFi – why wouldn’t she take advantage of that? Her family has wondered if perhaps Khiara broke her phone and couldn’t use it, but I still think that someone as close to her family as Khiara would have found some way to reach out, even if it was just to use the hotel computer to send an email. Either way, the cell phone seems to be a dead end.

Investigators have also explored the possibility that Khiara met with foul play. Perhaps she encountered a stranger on her hike, someone with ill intentions. If she was killed in the park, there would be plenty of places to conceal a body. But police haven’t indicated that they are searching for a suspect, nor has anyone come forward with that sort of information – at least, not that we know of.

The theory that seems to be the most likely is that Khiara had some sort of accident or incident at Waiʻānapanapa State Park. Like many of Hawaii’s parks, Waiʻānapanapa is remote and isolated, with thick forests and steep drop-offs along the Pacific Ocean. If Khiara had stayed on the hiking trails, there would be very few dangers. But Khiara was an experienced hiker and quite adventurous – is it possible that she left the beaten path to explore and ran into trouble somewhere no one would be able to find her?

Another possibility is that Khiara was a victim of the ocean. There is a beautiful black sand beach at the state park, but there is no lifeguard on duty. On the park website, it clearly lays out several hazards for visitors: dangerous shorebreak, strong current, and waves breaking on the ledges. Signs are posted along the beach, warning visitors of the dangers. If Khiara had gone swimming at the park beach, it’s likely there would have been other people nearby who may have seen her. But if she chose to go into the water at another point along the coastline, she could have been caught in the current without anyone noticing.

Khiara also may have gone into the water accidentally. There are many volcanic rocks lining the coast, and visitors to the park enjoy walking out on the rocks to see the waves crashing below. But the ocean is unpredictable, and if Khiara somehow slipped and fell, she could have easily been swept away. This may also explain why her backpack, cell phone, and car keys were never found.

I know that we often look for the sinister and devious in the true crime community, but sometimes the simplest explanation is the truth. The fact of the matter is that Hawaii has one of the highest rates of missing persons in the country. In 2019, Hawaii had over 100 open missing persons cases – a huge number considering the population size – and many of those people went missing in or around Hawaii’s state parks.

Two weeks after Khiara disappeared, 35-year-old Craig Pitt was reported missing, and his circumstances were eerily similar. His silver Toyota Corolla was found abandoned along Hana Highway, just miles away from where Khiara disappeared. Tragically, his body was found the next day at the base of a waterfall near the Bamboo Forest. It appeared that he had gone hiking alone and had fallen to his death.

Shortly after that, 27-year-old Kyle Brittain vanished in Waipi’o Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii. He had only planned to take a short hike, and was carrying water, some power bars, and his cell phone. He was last seen at an overlook on August 30th around 6am, when he asked a fellow hiker where the bathroom was located. He thanked the hiker and told him to have a good day. Then, he vanished. Despite an enormous search effort, Kyle has never been found.

There are stories of missing hikers with happy endings, like the case of Amanda Eller, who was lost in the Makawao Forest Reserve for 17 days before being rescued. But there are still so many cases that end in tragedy.

Khiara’s family has not given up the search, even after three long years. They have offered a $25,000 reward for any information leading to her safe return, and they have hired a private investigator to work the case. They held several rallies on Maui to raise awareness and remind the public that Khiara is still missing. Her sister Thea told Maui Now, “We’re hoping to keep her face in peopleʻs memory so that they can keep an eye out for her… Without answers, you don’t have closure. We’ll never stop looking for her until we get answers and we find her.”

Khiara Henry was 23 years old at the time of her disappearance on July 21, 2019. She is 5’3” tall and weighs approximately 120 lbs. She has brown eyes and brown hair and multiple distinctive tattoos on her upper right arm – praying hands and a large sunflower. You can see pictures of Khiara and her tattoos on the podcast website.

If you have any information about Khiara’s disappearance, please contact the Maui Police Department at 808-270-6516 or contact the family tip line at 808-757-5102.

In the words of Khiara’s mother Monica, “If anyone knows anything, please say something. Try to keep her in your hearts and minds. She is somebody’s daughter and sister. Her whole family would love to have her home.”