Hawaii police: Bellevue tourist’s death was homicide

Fifteen months ago, a Bellevue woman visiting Hawaii was found dead on a beach on the Big Island. Now, investigators say someone killed her.

Hawaii Island Police arrested her husband immediately after her death, but then released him. Now police describe him as a person of interest.

On Friday, neighbors of the couple in Bellevue learned that more than a year after 41-year-old Smriti Saxena died, Hawaii police are calling her death a murder.

“I am shocked,” said Sheekee Chan, a neighbor.

“It kind of seemed suspicious from the start,” said Casey Thorn, another neighbor.

According to Hawaii police, Smriti’s husband, 43-year-old Sonam Saxena of Bellevue, reported his wife missing Feb. 18, 2020 while they were on vacation.

Sonam Saxena spoke with the newspaper, West Hawaii Today, at the time. He told the paper his wife had an asthma attack on the beach, so he ran back to their hotel to get her inhaler. He said when he returned, she was gone.

The next morning, Smriti Saxena’s body washed up on the southern shoreline of Anaehoomalu Bay, the northwest side of the Big Island.

Police arrested Sonam Saxena on suspicion of second-degree murder, but released him 48 hours later with no charges. Two days is the maximum amount of time someone can be held in custody in the state without charges being filed.

Police said at the time that an autopsy was inconclusive in determining the exact cause of death.

On Thursday, police shared a news release renewing a request for information from the public, describing her death a homicide.

Lt. Edwin Buyten with the Hawaii Police Department said Smriti Saxena died of “homicidal violence of undetermined means.” Buyten said over the phone that it was up to the forensic pathologist to make the determination of whether the cause of death was homicide. He did not disclose details on what additional information led to that decision.

Neighbors say they never noticed any trouble with the couple before.

“They (were) very quiet. I didn’t hear any argument or noises or anything like that,” Chan said.

“It’s a little concerning knowing there’s a person capable of doing that living on my street … if he did do it,” Thorn said.

KIRO7 knocked on Sonam Saxena’s door, messaged him on social media and through his personal website but did not get any response.

Neighbors said they worry for the couple’s two daughters.

“Horrible for their kids, especially if it was a homicide. Then they’re losing both their parents,” Thorn said.

Hawaii police are asking people who might know anything about this case to call the department’s non-emergency number at (808) 935-3311 or Detective Sheldon Nakamoto of the Area II Criminal Investigation Section at (808) 326-4646 ext. 228. He also can be reached via email at sheldon.nakamoto@hawaiicounty.gov.