My name is Kyle, and I’m Leilani’s uncle. I’m her father Steve’s younger brother. I’d like to share a few of my memories of Leilani.

Leilani was born when I was 10 years old. June 2002. I always remembered her age because it was about 9.5 years away from mine – I turned 29 last December, and she turned 19 this June. Coincidentally, almost every winter and every summer, Leilani and her little brother Anthony would come down from Northern California and stay with us for a few weeks at a time. Christmas and summer vacation, like clockwork.

From day one, Leilani was a force of nature. On her very first Christmas Eve, she kept her grandpa, babcia, and uncles up all night. As a 10-year-old boy who wanted to open presents at 7:00am sharp, I was peeved and powerless at the audacity of this baby girl. And while all babies cry, that night ended up being a glimpse into the future of this fiery little spirit.

When she was a child, Leilani was direct, precocious and, at times, a bit impish. For example, Leilani would announce family secrets she overheard. She’d loudly point out when grandpa was drunk, and then scold him for it. In fact, she’d scold her dad and grandpa for drinking, smoking, swearing, and being unshaven. She’d talk to strangers, ask us all probing questions, and challenge just about anyone who got in her way.

She’d demand we evacuate the computer so she could play Sims for hours. She’d lead her little brother Anthony on plundering expeditions into my room. She’d get into earthshattering arguments with her dad, and then storm off to the McDonald’s or park down the street, taking her little brother in tow. She’d outwit and outmaneuver her dad – and I should point out that he is a certified rough and tough guy. And yet, he was often left frazzled, shaking his head, muttering under his breath, and getting into his truck to make sure Leilani made it safely there and back.

Another thing I hold dear — whenever she was down in La Palma/Orange County, Leilani was my mom’s (her babcia’s) little side kick. They’d go everywhere together and shop everywhere together. Rarely did they come back from running errands without Leilani holding a bag (or two) in her hands.

These are some of my most cherished memories of Leilani, but they’re only a tiny glimpse of who she is. When I was a kid, I was an autocrat towards my little brother. Leilani was not, and I always admired that about her. She genuinely loved, cherished and cared for her brother Anthony and baby sister Sierra –Leilani even had her baby sister’s name tattooed on her forearm. And over the past few weeks, I’ve learned the extent to which she was an effortlessly loyal and responsible friend. I believe this is the hallmark of a true fiery soul. Leilani wasn’t just a precocious and fearless girl. She wasn’t just a trickster or imp. She was genuine, loving, and loyal. Always checking in, always responsible, always there for her brother and baby sister.

Leilani was always “there”. She had a clearly defined role in our family, which she played perfectly. I’ll always remember Leilani as the bold little girl in a house of loud and rowdy men. Her absence will be an irreplaceable hole in our lives and hearts.

Leilani, I really can’t believe you’re gone from our lives. I wish you could have had the chance to visit us in New York. You deserved so much better than this unforgivable and horrifying cruelty. You are an irreplaceable and iconic part of my family, of our family.

I love you Leilani, and I can only hope you are at peace. It goes without saying that you were and are loved by so many people. Your mom, father, dad, brother, sister, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and so many others, will miss you more than words can describe. We will carry on your spirit.

[prepared for, and shared, at Leilani’s Celebration of Youth — December 12, 2021]

By Kyle