May-June 2020

Love & tragedy

For Jeffanie Rantung-Kramar, what was supposed to be a honeymoon in paradise turned into unimaginable heartbreak

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The couple married on Sept. 8, 2018, and left for Hawaii the morning after the wedding. Courtesy photo

Hawaiian authorities arrived at the couple’s condo about 15 minutes later and started asking questions about Stephen. What was he wearing? What was his mental state? Did he hike often? A detective checked flights to make sure he hadn’t left the island, Jeffanie says. For a few hours, police searched for Stephen in easy-to-reach places, but it was too dark to check the mountain trails. The officers urged Jeffanie to stay calm. The weather was good. The mountains were free of dangerous predators. Based on what she’d told them, they knew that Stephen, 27, was an experienced hiker with military training so he probably wouldn’t navigate unfamiliar territory in the dark. Maybe he was lost and waiting for daylight to find his way back. They told her an aerial search would begin in the morning, when helicopters could fly in from Maui, nearly 9 miles away. Jeffanie called Stephen’s parents later that night, but with a six-hour time difference, she didn’t hear back from them until they woke up a few hours later.

As the night went on, Jeffanie sat on the couch alone, crying and praying, until she heard the sound of helicopters at sunrise. Over the next few days, her in-laws, mother, sister and cousin would arrive. News outlets in Hawaii and back home in the D.C. area would report on Stephen’s disappearance, and locals would show up at her door to say their loved ones were out looking for him.

All along, Jeffanie kept wondering what might have happened if they’d missed their flight or chosen another honeymoon spot, maybe San Diego or Colorado. What if she’d encouraged him to stay with her that morning? She replayed their last conversation in her head a million times as she waited for word on Stephen’s whereabouts—and then a million times more after the lead detective showed up at the condo on Friday, Sept. 21, four days after Stephen went missing, to say a local resident had found Stephen’s body in a gulch about a half-mile northeast of the condo. Investigators concluded that he was peering over a boulder and it gave way. He dropped 150 feet to his death. She clung onto her father-in-law and sobbed.