Ashtabula, Kent State communities reflect on missing student as search comes to close

Jeffrey Stanley

Valerie Royzman

One day Rand Hilal Al Dulaimi was living her usual life: working at a retirement home in Ashtabula, tending to her sandy-haired little boy and reveling in the sunshine for a few months before she was set to begin her second semester at the Kent State Ashtabula campus.

And then one day she wasn’t.

Twenty-three-year-old Al Dulaimi went missing July 9. The Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office, along with help from the Ashtabula Police Department, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and FBI, has been searching for her whereabouts since July 11. On Tuesday evening, they located a body near North Bend Road in Ashtabula, though it’s unclear at this time whether it’s hers.

The sheriff’s office has stopped its search at this time. Sheriff Bill Johnson said he, along with other authorities who worked on the case, is awaiting identification of the body from the coroner’s office.

Before the news of the body, Ashtabula residents and friends of Al Dulaimi gathered Friday evening at Lakeshore Park for a candlelight vigil to keep her in their thoughts. Al Dulaimi’s family was not present, as they live abroad. Her sister, Rula Al Dulaimi, lives in Turkey.

Al Dulaimi, an Iraqi woman, moved to the U.S. and married Jeffrey Stanley in 2016, who was named a person of interest in the case.

Carey Stotts, an Ashtabula local, helped Shawna Rivers, her sister-in-law, organize the gloomy event. They do not personally know Al Dulaimi, but rather a friend of hers who created a Facebook page after her disappearance.

“Her family being in another country and not being able to be here is devastating to all of us,” Stotts said. “I couldn’t even imagine. That’s why we stepped up, and we did it just for her. We didn’t know her, and I hope that someone would do the same for my child if something like that ever happened.”

The vigil drew roughly 75 people, Stotts said. Friends shared stories of how they knew her, and community faces like the Rev. Kenneth Roberts of the Pentecostal Church of God helped lead a prayer.

Jeffrey Stanley, Al Dulaimi’s estranged husband, was named a person of interest in the case on Thursday. Al Dulaimi was last seen at his 4506 Ninevah Road property. He is booked at the Ashtabula County Jail on a parole violation.

His criminal history and marriage to Al Dulaimi, however, have sparked conversation in the community, Stotts said. Her fiance, Eric Rivers, personally knows Stanley.

“She came here to start over, to have a good life,” Stotts said. “And the guy that she was with … she was trying to get away from him.”

Thierry Delorme, an associate professor of biological sciences at Kent State Ashtabula, taught Al Dulaimi this past spring in “Biological Foundations.” She is a biotechnology major. He said she was rather reserved but always an active participant in class, and she often stayed after to ask questions about the content.

“I hope she’s still OK. … She’s really one of the top five students that I’ve had in the last couple years,” Delorme said. “She was a really good student, really willing to learn.”

Authorities issued an Amber Alert in March 2017 when Stanley abducted his then 1-year-old son Omar Stanley.

The alert was later cancelled when the boy was located, and Stanley was arrested. According to Ashtabula Court of Common Pleas records, Stanley faced five charges, including abduction, burglary and domestic violence.

A jury acquitted Stanley of all but two charges — a first-degree misdemeanor of endangering children and a fourth-degree felony count of trespassing. Judge Thomas Harris sentenced Stanley to probation.

Al Dulaimi filed for divorce from Stanley in September 2017, according to records, and the case remains open.

Al Dulaimi’s son has been in the custody of the Ashtabula County Children Services Board since she went missing.

Thierry, along with the rest of the Kent State community, said he is hoping for a positive outcome.

“Like everybody who knew her, we are quite stunned by her disappearance,” he said. “It’s like you see that on TV all the time, but you can’t think that it’s going to happen to somebody you know.”

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