Dawn Momohara was 16 years old when she was murdered. Her body was found at her school in Honolulu, Hawaii, more than 40 years ago, and the person responsible for her death has yet to be brought to justice.
On the afternoon of March 20, 1977, Dawn, an eleventh-grade student at McKinley High School, told her mother, Mabel Momohara, that she was going to meet up with her friends at the Ala Moana Center, a shopping center on Ala Moana Boulevard.
But when she left her home on Elm Street, clad in a green muumuu with floral print and slippers, she never returned.
At around 10:38 p.m. that same day, Mabel contacted the Honolulu Police Department and reported her daughter missing, which prompted a search by law enforcement.
Police officials questioned her friends and acquaintances in hopes of finding out what happened to Dawn Momohara, but to no avail.
The following morning, Dawn was found dead, and it is unknown if she ever made it to the shopping center, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
At around 7:25 a.m. on March 21, 1977, a teacher at McKinley High School entered the second floor of the English building and found Dawn’s body near a classroom that was in proximity to a stairwell.
Officials said at the time Dawn’s body was found, her green muumuu was pulled over her head.
Her body was transported to the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy, which revealed that Dawn was sexually assaulted and strangled to death.
Investigators believe Dawn, whose classmates described her as a quiet and shy student who didn’t hang out with a fast crowd, was killed the night before her body was found, but how she ended up at her high school remains a mystery.
The Honolulu Advertiser reported that although the classrooms were locked, the entrances and corridors at the high school did not have doors, making the halls easily accessible to the public.
A witness told police that they saw a man leaving the school the day before Dawn Momohara was found murdered. He is believed to be Oriental with dark, shoulder-length hair. He could be between 5’5 and 5’7 feet tall with a slim build.
A vehicle was also seen parked alongside the building, which could have belonged to the perpetrator. It is described as a two-door, “1974 or 1975 Pontiac Lemans with louvered rear windows, a maroon bottom, and a white vinyl top,” according to KHON 2.
Several days after Dawn Momohara’s death, Honolulu police released a composite sketch of the possible suspect and a vehicle.
Susie Chun Oakland, who was a freshman at McKinley High School at the time of the murder, told the media that Dawn’s death “wasn’t something natural. McKinley never had that kind of incident before, so I think everyone was quite afraid.”
“I think all of us were really shocked. Just for that to happen was very unusual and very tragic, and it just shouldn’t have happened to a young life.”
“What HPD is doing in terms of still trying to find who had killed her, I think, is important for the family and for the community is important. Just for that to happen was very unusual and very tragic, and it just shouldn’t have happened to a young life.”
Anyone with information regarding the unsolved murder of Dawn Momohara is encouraged to contact Crimestoppers at (808) 955-8300 or send an email.