Friends, professors remember Rand Al Dulaimi as ‘soft-spoken’ student, loving mother

Rand Hilal Al Dulaimi 

Valerie Royzman

On the day police found her body, the dreary clouds faded slowly, and from them emerged a rainbow.

Suspicious disappearances and rainbows don’t usually go together. But for the Ashtabula residents and Kent State students and faculty holding their breaths on Rand Al Dulaimi’s vanishing for two grueling weeks, this was a sign.

“As I look up, my daughter was like, ‘Oh mom, look, there’s a rainbow,’ and it instantly made me feel like it was her,” said Christine Willis, one of Al Dulaimi’s classmates at Kent State Ashtabula.

Al Dulaimi, a biotechnology major, went missing July 9. Her body was found July 24 near North Bend Road in Ashtabula, though the coroner’s office has not yet revealed the cause or manner of her death. The Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Al Dulaimi’s case.

Willis, an occupational therapy major, spoke with Al Dulaimi in the two classes they shared together every so often and remembers her as someone “soft-spoken” and “quiet.” She posted a video of the rainbow to a Facebook page dedicated to Al Dulaimi because despite the tragedy surrounding her death, Willis hopes the arc signifies she is now safe.

Al Dulaimi was born in Iraq and later moved to Turkey, where she met Jeffrey Stanley, whom she moved to the U.S. with and married. Stanley, her estranged husband, was named a person of interest in the case but has not been arrested in connection with her death. They have a 2-year-old son.

Twenty-three-year-old Al Dulaimi is survived by her mother and father, who live in Iraq, and her older sister, Rula Al Dulaimi, who lives in Turkey and has been trying to acquire a visa to the U.S. to say goodbye to her sister.

Fox 8 Cleveland reported Wednesday that her application submitted to the U.S. Consulate in Turkey, including a letter from U.S. Congressman David Joyce, was denied.

Carol Huffman, a neighbor of Al Dulaimi, said she only interacted with her several times — but that was enough to learn motherhood came naturally and her toddler was always first priority.

“I saw her almost every day, and she was always with little Omar,” Huffman said. “She was a beautiful girl and a great mother.”

On Friday, Susan Stocker, the dean and chief administrative officer of Kent State Ashtabula, offered a statement on Al Dulaimi’s death:

“We are heartbroken by this overwhelming loss, and our prayers go out to Rand’s family, especially her son, Omar, along with the students, staff and faculty who grew to know and love her here at Kent State.”

Al Dulaimi completed one semester at Kent State, making the Dean’s List last spring. She was enrolled for classes this fall.

James Johnston, an adjunct professor in the Department of English at Kent State Ashtabula, had Al Dulaimi in class. He said he was notified of her disappearance via an email sent to faculty.

“She seemed somewhat shy at times but she did talk in class, she responded to things,” Johnston said. “I would say she sometimes surprised me with how willing she was to express an opinion because I would’ve pegged her as a shy person.”

Through the semester, Johnston learned more about her, as she often stayed after class to talk. Reflecting now, he said a memory of one assignment “has been sticking in my mind.”

He selected students to lead discussions about essays, and Al Dulaimi, who he calls “intellectually curious,” was the first to volunteer for a piece from Iranian writer Azar Nafisi.

The essay references “One Thousand and One Nights,” a collection of Middle Eastern folktales, specifically the story of a ruthless king who orders his queen killed post-heartbreak and vows to marry a new virgin each night, only to kill her in the morning to avoid another betrayal.

Shahrazad, a woman forced to marry the king, tells him stories so enchanting that when dawn arrives and she must leave, he invites her back to finish them each evening and eventually falls in love with her. Shahrazad uses her voice and storytelling to save herself and exert power over an abusive king.

Johnston thinks Al Dulaimi felt a cultural connection to the author, and as she shared stories of her immigration to the U.S. and her family through the spring, perhaps a personal one, too.

“I would say she seemed to be a somewhat liberated woman coming from a background where women are not encouraged to be that way,” he said. “She seemed to want to advance herself intellectually. I always had the sense that this was somewhat at odds with maybe what her family thought she should be doing or what her culture says about women.

“The thought is haunting me that Rand connected with that story at a deeper level than most students would.”

Tabitha Mitchell, a co-worker who spent a few months getting to know Al Dulaimi at the Country Club Retirement Campus in Ashtabula where she once worked, said she felt “beyond devastated” to hear of her death.

Al Dulaimi worked as a state tested nursing assistant (STNA), and Mitchell called her “an amazing caregiver.”

“She was the sweetest woman I have ever met — hard-working and just loved her job, and even more so her son,” she said via Facebook Messenger. “I wish I could have got to know her even more than I did because she was an amazing soul.

And like rainbows fill the sky, “her smile filled a whole room with joy,” she said.

Valerie Royzman is the features editor. Contact her at [email protected].