KAILUA, Hawaii — Ursula Gehrmann and her 7-year-old half-sister stood on a sun-lit balcony together and pointed at the palm trees Thursday morning.
It was one of their first moments at home together since they arrived in Hawaii Wednesday night after leaving Waco this week.
For a while, at least, Joann and Gehrmann, 25, will share a home.
In Waco, Gehrmann said, she got a call from the Department of Human Services Tuesday saying she could have temporary custody of her sister, who was released from the Branch Davidian compound March 1. However, she must stay in touch with DHS to discuss custody status and such things as counseling.
Gehrmann’s mother and stepfather, Margarida and Neil Vaega, are still inside the Mount Carmel compound.
Gehrmann wants permanent custody of Joann. Joann’s aunt, Nese Vaega of New Zealand, also expressed an interest in getting custody, but said in a telephone interview Thursday that she just wants what is best for Joanna and will not try to split up the sisters.
“It would be bad for me to break both their hearts because they really do want to be together,” Nese Vaega said.
She said she wants to visit as often as possible with Joann and Gehrmann.
“I know it’s a long ways, so I better start saving,” she said with a laugh, adding she is happy just knowing Joann is now removed from the situation in Waco.
Gehrmann said she had mixed feelings about leaving Waco this week, knowing that her mother was still in the compound that has been besieged by federal agents for almost three weeks.
But she has decided to concentrate all her efforts on her sister. On Thursday, Gehrmann got started.
“Today, we put some of her clothes away,” she said, adding that they had lunch and Joann was ready to see and do more.
“She’s jumping all over the place, and she’s real happy,” Gehrmann said. “She’s fine. She’s playing with her stuff. She’s got a lot of new clothes.”
But there are signs that the situation inside the cult was – in the words of her sister – “not fun.”
Jumping up and down was not done inside the cult, Gehrmann said. Joann also has asked Gehrmann if she would be hit for doing things wrong or for accidents such as spilling milk.
“I guess they’d get in a lot of trouble and hit and stuff,” Gehrmann said.
But at least for now, the future – not the past – is the focus for Gehrmann and her sister.
“We’re going to go by the school today and check it out,” Gehrmann said.
Gehrmann said Joann would begin classes at her new school in about a week. It will be Joann’s first time to attend school though she has received some education, Gehrmann said.
Like many other children, Joann apparently isn’t thrilled with the idea, Gehrmann said, but she added that she was sure school would bring new friends to her sister.
Until then, though, Gehrmann and Joann plan on having fun. As promised, Gehrmann is taking Joann on a shopping spree with money set up in an account for her.
“We’re going to do that tomorrow,” Gehrmann said.