Photo by Nick Fiala

Local lit candle lanterns to honor the memory of murdered Rensselaer High School student Jared Valentine.

RENSSELAER — Dozens of people gathered in the parking lot last Friday at the Rensselaer Arby’s to honor the memory of a Rensselaer Central High School student who was killed one year ago that day while working in the restaurant.

Pastor Ken Groves, of Lake Village’s New Life Community Church, spoke at the short informal gathering in memory of Jared Valentine.

On Friday, he passed along a word of appreciation from Valentine’s mourning family.

“From all the family, we want to say ‘thank you’ to all of you guys,” Groves said. “You guys have no idea how much this has meant to them.”

Despite that evening’s intense wind, which presented a bit of a logistical challenge, many of those in attendance insisted on lighting and releasing floating candle lanterns for Valentine’s memory.

Ultimately, it was a short but heartfelt gathering, to ensure that the one-year anniversary of the beloved student’s death did not pass unmarked.

The original case

On Feb. 22, 2018, the Rensselaer Police Department received a 911 call to Arby’s at around 7:10 p.m., reporting a stabbing had taken place. Jasper County sheriff’s deputies also responded to the scene and began emergency medical treatment for Valentine, noting three wounds — two on his chest and one on the left side of his abdomen.

He was taken to Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee, Ill., by Prompt medics. Later, at 8:54 p.m., the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Department told the Rensselaer Police Department that Valentine had died from his injuries.

The suspect, former Arby’s employee Raymond Dhliwayo, who was working with Valentine at the time, had fled from the restaurant after the stabbing took place.

With information from employees, officers found and arrested him at 7:52 p.m., near the Pak-a-Sak on South College Avenue. He was found sitting on the curb at that location with a sheathed six-inch filleting Rapala knife sitting on the ground next to him.

Police Chief Matt Anderson was checking Dhliwayo for injuries when he was heard saying, “I’m sorry for what I did.” An officer spoke with Dhliwayo at the scene, while White recorded what was happening with a department-issued body camera. Dhliwayo said the knife was his and that he was sorry for hurting Valentine, who he specifically identified by his first name.

Later, while being interviewed at the Jasper County Jail, Dhliwayo said Valentine had made an insulting comment to him while they were working at Arby’s, but he would not say what that comment was. He said that he then went to his van, grabbed the knife and went back inside Arby’s.

According to a witness at the scene, Valentine walked inside the ice machine in the back of the restaurant when Dhliwayo approached him from behind and began to stab him.

Dhliwayo has since been declared incompetent to stand trial and committed to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction for Competency Restoration Services.

Many locals and people familiar with the area expressed shock, sadness and condolences to Valentine’s family. His own Facebook page quickly became a memorial wall filled with memories, condolences and messages from relatives and friends.

Less than a week after his death, members of the community came together to host a candlelight vigil in Valentine’s memory, at which Groves was also present. Numerous locals recalled their memories with him and the things he did for them.

“I think what we’ve learned here tonight … was that he would want us … to keep on loving each other,” Groves said of Valentine. “He’s not sad right now. He reached out to everybody.”