False missile alert rattles students

On Jan. 13, students received a text message alerting them of a missile – Hannah Bailey

On Jan. 13, tourists and residents of Hawai‘i had just begun their Saturdays. On that sunny morning, they were hitting the waves in Waikīkī, watching cartoons with their kids or enjoying some extra sleep.

At 8:07 a.m., however, they received a mass text alert, warning them of an incoming ballistic missile and urging them to seek shelter immediately. After 38 minutes, they received an update alert, informing them that the first alert was a false alarm. This traumatizing experience made a situation that many thought would never happen feel very real.

“My husband was in California for training,” said WCC student and military spouse Amanda Leite. “So I was alone with my dog, sleeping in our house when the first alert went off. I called my husband to ask him what was going on, and he was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Like he had no idea this was even happening.”

Leite grabbed her dog and hid in the bathroom, away from as many windows as possible. Her husband told her to lock herself in there until further information was available.

“I live on base, and there were no sirens going off,” she said. “So I couldn’t tell how serious it was. I started crying, and I called my sister to tell her what was going on. Everyone I talked to was just so confused because there was nothing on the media telling us anything about what’s happening.”

After Leite received the second alert, she called her family and her husband to let them know she and her dog were just fine.

Another WCC student, Juancarlos Maldonado, ignored the alert on his phone, thinking it was an Amber alert. His roommate, however, jumped into action.

“He took my dog and left me behind,” Maldonado said. “Once I got the second alert saying it was a false alarm, I got so mad that they left me but, on a positive note, at least my dog would’ve made it out.”

WCC student and retired U.S. Army soldier Justin Poaha also didn’t respond to the alert when it woke him up that morning.

“I specialized in air defense, missiles, counters … stuff like that was my area of expertise,” Poaha said. “When I got the message, I was like, ‘Wow really?’ It was my birthday. I just turned it off and went back to sleep … ”

Based on his training, Poaha doubted that the alert posed a real threat as he believes it’s very difficult for a missile to hit O‘ahu with all of its military defenses.

“I was thinking, ‘I highly doubt missiles are coming, but if they really are, there’s nothing I can really do about it.’”

His advice to those still worried about the threat or who are concerned for their safety:  “Don’t worry about what can happen. Just worry about what’s going on now, and you’ll be happier. Things will be okay.”

WCC mental health and wellness counselor Karla Silva-Park sent an email to faculty and staff a few days after the false alarm with a link to a Hawai‘i News Now story that features the Child & Family Service hotline. The hotline is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays for parents with concerns about how to help their children affected by the false alarm. The hotline number on O‘ahu is 526-1222.

Silva-Park is also available to students wanting someone to talk to on campus or who would like more resources related to mental health. She can be reached via email at karlas@hawaii.edu.



by Hannah Bailey, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter