ASHTABULA — Friday would have been Rand Hilal al Dulaimi’s 24th birthday. 

The young mother was a honor student at Kent State University Ashtabula when she was found murdered last summer. Her ex-husband, Jeffrey Stanley, has been charged with her murder. He has pleaded not guilty and remains incarcerated.

For the past eight months, Rand’s sister, Rula al Dulaimi, has been trying to get a U.S. visa to travel to Ashtabula from Turkey to get her nephew. Three weeks ago, she finally arrived, thanks to petitions, phone calls, letters and support from the community and state leaders.

On Friday, Rula and friends from Kent State University Ashtabula got to know one another with a bittersweet birthday commemoration in the campus library. About 20 people enjoyed birthday cake and punch. Everything, including a bouquet of flowers, were the color orange — Rand’s favorite color, Rula said.

“We are so glad to have you here,” said KSU Ashtabula Dean Susan Stocker. “We are here to celebrate her life.”

Rula said she’s talking with Children Services about getting custody of her 3-year-old nephew who has been placed with Rand’s ex-husband’s family. The nephew is the reason she has been trying so hard to get to Ashtabula.

“I cared for him when he was born; I held him and he knew me,” she said. “When Rand was alive, I talked to him every day (via Skype). Now I’m afraid he is forgetting me.”

She has only spoken to her nephew a few times since arriving in Ashtabula and she has not seen him in person. She believes her sister would want her to raise the boy and she loves him like a son. 

Children Services is not permitted to release any information about the case. 

Rand, who came to the United States from Turkey after marrying Stanley and giving birth to their son, had a few friends and no family in the U.S.

She worked at Geneva Village Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation and was a biotechnology major at KSU Ashtabula, where she made the spring 2018 Dean’s List. She had dreams of becoming a doctor.

“She was so smart,” Rula said. 

Stocker said, “Yes, many of us here found that out.”

“I just miss her,” Rula said. “It’s just not fair.”

She began to cry.

Stocker said, “No it’s not. Life is not fair.”

Several in attendance wiped away tears.

After talking with Children Services on Friday, Rula said she must hire an immigration attorney and get a green card before getting custody of her nephew. She will need help doing so, said Kat Loveland of Ashtabula, who was Rand’s friend and now is Rula’s friend.

Since Rula’s arrival, the two women have visited Rand’s grave together. Loveland also gave Rula a tour of Ashtabula County.

“She loves Geneva-on-the-Lake,” Loveland said. “She’s also eating a lot of bananas — they are $3 a piece in Turkey.”

Sarah Chapman, a child advocate at Homesafe, said the shelter’s workers carry Rand’s memory with them every day. 

“She will not be forgotten,” she said.

Kent State University Ashtabula recently announced the establishment of a scholarship in memory of Rand. 

“Rand was so positive and had much potential,” Stocker said. “While she has become the face of domestic violence in our community, her story is simply representative of so many women in our community who continue to struggle with the reality of domestic violence. It is important that we keep her memory alive and support students who are in similar situations and are working hard to create a better future for themselves and their families.”

The scholarship will be awarded annually based on financial need to a Kent State student who carries a better than 3.0 grade point average and is a single parent and nontraditional student. The student can be majoring in any academic program and attending at least six credit hours on the campus.

Anyone wishing to donate toward the endowment of the scholarship can make checks payable to the Kent State University Foundation with “Gift in Memory of Rand Hilal al Dulaimi” in the memo line and sent to: Kent State University at Ashtabula Att: Dean’s Office, 3300 Lake Road West, Ashtabula, Ohio 44004.