Tulsi Gabbard’s Aunt Allegedly Beaten to Death With Hammer in Samoa

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The paternal aunt of former Hawaiian Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was allegedly stabbed multiple times and beaten to death with a hammer in a brutal murder by her protégé in Samoa, police in the island nation said.

Caroline “Sina” Sinavaiana-Gabbard, 78, was found dead on May 25 at the GaluMoana Theater in Vaivase-Uta, Spectrum News reported. Sinavaiana-Gabbard allegedly got into a fight with Papalii Sia Figiel, 57, a Samoan poet and writer who was reportedly mentored by the older woman. The fight escalated to lethal blows when Figiel allegedly stabbed Sinavaiana-Gabbard multiple times and struck her with a hammer before fleeing to a friend’s house, where she was arrested, police said.

Figiel was initially charged with manslaughter, but the charges were upgraded to murder after a police investigation, Samoa police commissioner Auapaau Logoitino Filipo told reporters at a news conference.

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He added that police had no clear motive for the crime.

Sinavaiana-Gabbard, a former University of Hawaii professor, was the elder sister of Hawaii State Senator Mike Gabbard, who is Tulsi Gabbard’s father. He expressed his grief at her killing in a statement to Spectrum News.

“Caroline was my best friend as a teenager,” he said. “I love her deeply and wish her well as she continues her journey. While I sincerely forgive the murderer of this horrific crime, I’m hoping justice will be served, and that person will be punished to the full extent of the law.”

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Before retiring, Sinavaiana-Gabbard was an acclaimed writer and scholar who taught Pacific literature at the University of Hawaii for over 20 years. Born in American Samoa, she made history as the first scholar of Samoan descent to become a full professor at an American university.

Sinavaiana-Gabbard was also outspoken in her criticism of her niece’s politics as Gabbard left the Democratic party and publicly embraced more right-wing views. In 2017, she wrote to The New Yorker expressing her concerns about Gabbard’s apparent approval of “such strongmen as Narendra Modi, Bashar al-Assad, and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (not to mention Trump),” and about Gabbard’s involvement with the Science of Identity Foundation, a controversial religious group that some call a cult.

“Sina was bold in publicly criticizing far right threats to democracy, even within her own family,” Christine Gralow, a friend of Sinavaiana-Gabbard’s, said of the late poet.

Figiel is next expected to appear in court on June 10, the New York Post reported.

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