A school crossing sign (file image)
Claims hundreds of Hawaiian children have been spirited away are false. Image by Kelly Barnes/AAP PHOTOS

No truth to missing Maui children conspiracy

William Summers September 22, 2023

More than 1000 children are still missing after the wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui.


False. The claim misinterprets a document that said 2050 Maui students were yet to re-enrol in school. They are not missing.

Australian social media users are sharing a conspiracy that more than 1000 children in Maui are missing following deadly wildfires on the Hawaiian island.

The claim is false. It appears to be based on a misinterpretation of a Hawaiian government report about two weeks after the blazes in August 2023 which said about 2000 students from fire-affected areas were yet to re-enrol in school.

The report did not suggest the children were missing or dead.

Most of the students have now re-enrolled in other schools or registered for distance learning.

At the time of writing, Maui authorities estimate 97 people died in the wildfires.

An additional 31 people were missing, including one minor, as of September 15.

A screenshot of an Instagram post.
 Wild claims about missing children are circulating on social media. 

Claims about missing children in Maui have been prominent on mainstream social media platforms throughout early September.

A man in this Instagram video claimed “at least 2000 children” were “unaccounted for”.

The claim has also appeared on TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

An Australian conspiracy theorist known as Max Igan repeated similar claims in a video published on Bitchute.

“Over 1000 children are missing,” a voiceover on the video says (video mark 13min 17sec).

“I’m talking 1050 kids gone without a trace. They have absolutely no clue where these children are. It’s like they vanished into thin air.”

Mr Igan later claims: “They’ve stolen between 1000 and 2000 children,” (video mark 28min).

An Australian user subsequently posted Mr Igan’s video to Facebook.

A screenshot of a Facebook post.
 The false claims are being spread by Australian Facebook users. 

Claims about large numbers of missing children are often tied to a QAnon-linked conspiracy theory that a cabal of global ‘elites’ systematically steals children for unsavoury purposes.

Some conspiracy theorists have suggested without evidence that Maui’s natural disaster was used as a cover for child trafficking.

Many of the claims about Maui’s alleged missing children reference an August 24 report (archived here) from Hawaii’s Education Department about school enrolments.

It detailed the number of students enrolled at fire-damaged public schools in the town of Lahaina, and how many had since re-enrolled at other schools on the island.

Students’ bags outside a classroom (file image)
 The wildfires resulted in four public schools being closed. 

An emergency update from the education department on September 13 stated all four of Lahaina’s public schools were closed as a result of the fires.

Three required environmental assessments before reopening, while the fourth school was “damaged beyond repair”, the department said.

Students had the option of re-enrolling in other schools on the island, the update said.

The department’s August 24 enrolment report said 3001 students were enrolled in Lahaina’s public schools immediately before the fire.

Since the fire, 538 had re-enrolled in other public schools and another 438 had enrolled in distance learning, the report said.

That left 2025 students who “have not re-enrolled in another public school or opted for distance learning (but) may have moved out of state, enrolled in private schools”, the report stated.

But the report did not suggest those 2025 students were missing or dead.

School students return back to school (file image)
 The majority of children have returned to education in Maui. 

A more recent update on school enrolment numbers, published on September 15, stated the department had made “active contact” with 94 per cent of students in the Lahaina area.

That update said 957 of West Maui’s 3001 students had re-enrolled in other public schools by September 14, 958 had applied for distance learning, 267 had moved to a private or charter school, and 628 had “other active contact” with the department.

That left 191 students who had not yet been in active contact with the department, according to the updated figures.

Hawaii’s public schools superintendent Keith Hayashi said in the September 15 update that the state’s education department was “actively reaching out” to all affected families.

US-based fact-checking organisations USA Today and Lead Stories also investigated social media claims more than 1000 children were missing in Maui, and found the information to be false.

A representative from Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s Joint Information Center told Lead Stories the number of students who had not re-enrolled or opted for distance learning had “nothing to do with the actual number of confirmed missing”.

The Verdict

The claim more than 1000 children are still missing in Maui following the Hawaiian island’s August wildfires is false.

The claim is based on a misinterpretation of a Hawaiian Education Department document from August 24 which showed 2050 students from fire-affected areas were yet to re-enrol in education about a fortnight after the devastating blazes. Most of those students have since re-enrolled at new schools or for distance learning.

Thirty-one people remained missing after the fires as of September 15, including one minor.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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