'We move on, but we never forget': Kevin Ajluni's parents discuss unanswered questions about son's death, reflect on his legacy
Confident, but happy. Someone who made an impression on the people he met.
That’s how his mother and father describe their late son, Kevin Karim Maher Ajluni.
From a young age, Kevin had a way of connecting with people, Judy Ajluni said. Young or old, Kevin could converse with anyone. He had something about him, she recalled, that allowed him to relate with just about anyone he met. He loved people, and left a positive impression on the people he interacted with, too.
“Kevin had personality; he just made things funny,” Judy said. “Even if you don’t think it’s funny, (it was) when he did it — just simple fun.”
Judy, her husband Maher, and their daughter Allison, are still mourning the loss of Kevin almost a year after his death. Kevin was about to graduate from Central Michigan University in May 2018. He was a double major, specializing in logistics and supply chain management and marketing. He already had been hired by Ryder, in the General Motors division, and was excited to start his new job.
On April 28, 2018, Kevin fell down a flight of stairs at a house on Main Street. He suffered a skull fracture and bleeding on the brain. He died six days later on May 3, 2018, two days before his graduation.
What was supposed to be a night of celebrating ended in a tragedy. His mother keeps coming back to one word when discussing his death: Unfair.
At the Ajluni house in West Bloomfield, Judy and Maher stand on their deck, which overlooks a pond in their backyard. They reminisce about Kevin – the winter afternoons he spent playing hockey on the pond or fishing during the summer. Kevin was always outside enjoying himself, they said, visiting with friends and neighbors.
Inside their home, located above the fireplace, is a space that Judy and Maher call “Kevin’s Wall.” Photos, awards, work keycards, certificates and more lie in honor of Kevin.
Judy and Maher took pride in Kevin’s work ethic – he always had a job, no matter what it was. At 12, Kevin was hired to dress up as a bumble bee outside of a local flower shop, his father said. He would stand outside and wave to passersby, prompting young children to come and take photos with him.
Kevin was athletic. From soccer, baseball, to football and water polo, Kevin did it all, Maher said. He attended Walled Lake Northern High School. In October 2018, the school retired Kevin’s water polo number in his honor.
When it came time to choose what university to attend, his parents said Kevin always thought he would end up at Michigan State University where his sister attended. But when the family visited Central Michigan University, Kevin felt at home on campus.
“He saw the campus and just fell in love with it,” his father said. “He said ‘It’s not too big, it’s not too small,’— he loved the school (and) the people.”
Kevin was loved by many people, his parents said. At his viewing and funeral service in May, the church was so full, people were spilling outside waiting to get in, they said. Many CMU students and friends of Kevin made sure they were in attendance, even with it being days after graduation, Judy added.
While attending CMU, his parents said he was always interested in meeting people and exploring new interests. He joined the Phi Sigma Phi fraternity in 2014, during his freshman year. When Kevin told his parents he was joining a fraternity, his father wasn’t thrilled.
“I was against it. I was never a fraternity person,” Maher said. “(PSP) was something that was important to him. We supported it, (since) it was important to him. We also have to trust him and his judgment, he was growing up and needed to make his own decisions.”
Kevin’s mother had a different perspective. Judy wanted Kevin to take advantage of all the opportunities available to him at CMU. That included her supporting him joining the fraternity.
“I grew up in an ethnic family, I’m American born, my dad is from the Middle East, my mom’s American born and her mom — but very strict ethnic family,” Judy said. “All (of) my children’s lives I wanted them to experience things that we never got to. When (Kevin) told me he wanted to join the fraternity — I was never allowed to join a sorority — I wanted the American dream for my son. I wanted him to experience everything the world has to offer, and I never wanted to hinder my children.”
Along with his social fraternity, Kevin also participated in the New Venture and ERPsim competitions. Kevin worked hard during his college career, Maher and Judy said. After reading a book about CEOs, Kevin learned that leaders of Fortune 500 companies would study late at night, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., so they weren’t interrupted. His mother said Kevin would do this, but because of this schedule he would be the one interrupting his family and friends.
“He would call at 4 a.m. and ask ‘Do you know the answer?’” Judy said laughing. “He used to always call us at 12:30 a.m. ... 2 a.m. ... ‘I’m walking home now,’ — whatever it was.”
Set to graduate in May 2018 with a job lined up, Judy said Kevin was “so excited to graduate, it was unreal.”
On April 28, 2018, Kevin attended the fraternity’s “Senior Send Off” at the PSP house in Deerfield Village Apartments. Following the event, Kevin went to a house on Main Street that the PSP president lived in at the time. People were drinking before heading out for the night to continue the celebration at bars. According to Mount Pleasant Police, people at the house saw Kevin arrive at about 8 p.m. People drank and socialized before leaving at about 10 p.m.
According to the police report, two different groups left — one group went to downtown Mount Pleasant and the other went to Wayside/O’Kelly’s.
Nicholas Alfaro-Valenzuela, who lived at the Main Street house, stayed back to take a nap while others left for the bar. He told police that he went to bed between 10 and 11 p.m. When Alfaro-Valenzuela awoke, he told police that he heard snoring. He said he didn’t think much of it and did not try to find the source of the sound.
He ordered a pizza at about 12:05 a.m. About 15 minutes later he went into the living room to watch for the delivery. At this time, Alfaro-Valenzuela heard the snoring again. He followed the sound which led him to the basement door, which was open. When he looked down the stairway, he saw Kevin laying at the bottom of the stairs.
Alfaro-Valenzuela told police he called his roommate, Brad Bell, who was at Wayside, and asked him to return home. When he arrived, Bell called 911. At 12:45 a.m. police and EMS arrived on the scene.
According to the police report, Kevin was unconscious and having difficulty breathing. He was transported to McLaren Central Michigan and later flown to Covenant Hospital in Saginaw.
Witnesses told police no one saw or heard Kevin fall down the stairs. According to police, Kevin’s blood alcohol content was .242 percent at the time of the fall. Doctors later determined that he had a skull fracture and suffered bleeding on the brain.
Maher said he had talked to Kevin about three times that day. He was happy, his father said. His last text with him was at about 8:30 p.m. Maher was catching up with Kevin and they were talking about their picks for the upcoming NFL draft.
At about 1 a.m. that night, his parents received a call from police. Kevin had an accident, they were told. He was being taken to the hospital. The parents were told to stay by their phone. About 45 minutes later, they were told Kevin was being flown to Saginaw and they needed to drive up to be with him. When they arrived, they learned Kevin was being rushed into emergency surgery. After that, he was in a coma.
On May 3, 2018, the Ajluni’s lost their only son.
Police investigation closed
Unanswered questions in the investigation that followed Kevin’s death still bother Judy and Maher. Detectives discovered his cell phone was missing. The contents of his wallet disappeared.
Police found Kevin’s wallet on his person at the scene, but when Judy and Maher received his belongings a few days later, they saw that his wallet was empty.
“Why was he carrying an empty wallet?” Judy asks.
In September 2018, Kevin’s phone was turned over to police. The manager of the apartment he was renting found it in a utilities closet next to his apartment door. When police went to do a “phone dump” — a way to look at the contents of a cell phone — they discovered it had been restored to factory settings. The rental manager told police her husband did this on accident, according to police.
Judy said the closet, where the furnace is located, is usually locked. She said the phone was found an inch inside the closet. It seems that it was pushed underneath the door.
“The phone thing bothered me more because that wasn’t (at the scene). We knew Kevin had the phone (on him),” Maher said. “That really bothered me.”
The family wonders why the rental manager waited nearly four months to turn the phone in to police. It’s the carelessness with Kevin’s phone that angers them the most.
“I told (the rental manager) it was totally unacceptable,” Maher said. “You don’t realize what we had been going through, agonizing where this phone is, thinking maybe there was some type of foul play. Still, it’s fishy how the phone still got there. I still don’t understand that.”
To his mother, losing the contents of Kevin’s phone is heartbreaking.
“We wanted those pictures, we wanted those texts, we wanted to know what (Kevin’s) last days were like,” Judy said.
Police have closed the case. Officers found no evidence of foul play. Kevin’s death has been characterized as an accidental fall.
According to police records, when further investigating the Main Street house detectives discovered that the door to the basement was next to two other doors — one leading outside, the other to a bedroom. Residents of the house told police that the basement door was difficult to open. It frequently stuck. Kevin’s friends told police they believe he was either trying to go outside or to the bedroom to sleep and accidentally opened the wrong door.
After pushing the door to force it open, they said, he likely fell down the stairs.
Records also show there was no hand railing leading down the staircase. There was also no working light in the basement or in the hallway that led to the basement door.
These findings prompted Judy and Maher to take legal action against Rentwood Management, the owners of the rental house. The lawsuit, filed Nov. 19, 2018, by the Ajlunis is seeking $25,000 in damages from Rentwood Management, the owners of the house. A trial is set for October 2019.
The lawsuit is not about the money, the Ajlunis said, it’s about justice for Kevin. Their decision to pursue legal action is to raise awareness about the unsafe conditions of off-campus student housing.
“We’re mad,” Judy said. “He had nothing to grasp onto. Had there been a hand railing, he could have grasped onto something.”
Having worked in property management for 30 years, Maher said when he first saw photos of the staircase Kevin fell down, he knew immediately that there were several code violations.
“We feel those landlords have a responsibility,” Judy said. “The fire department inspects those houses, they had a responsibility.”
“If some good comes out of this lawsuit, it’s a message to these homeowners that they have a responsibility and (to make) parents be more aware,” Maher said. “The parents also have to be responsible (for) where their kid is going to be living; that it’s a safe condition for their kid. That’s the point. We don’t want this to happen to anyone else again.”
PSP’s permanent suspension
The “Senior Send Off” that preceded Kevin’s accident is part of the reason PSP was permanently suspended from CMU this year. The April 28, 2018 gathering was an unregistered social event. The university also cited alcohol violations occurring at the “Senior Send Off.”
Since 2015, PSP has been the subject of several student complaints ranging from sexual assault allegations to hazing allegations and other misconduct charges. After years of investigating the fraternity, the “Senior Send Off” violations proved to be too much for CMU to tolerate.
“We take all of the accusations against Phi Sigma Phi, and the student death last spring, with utmost seriousness,” said Tony Voisin, associate vice president of Student Affairs. “The trail of incidents involving this fraternity shows a significant threat to the safety of our students and our community. We must, and clearly will, take action to protect our students. Phi Sigma Phi does not uphold the values of Central Michigan University.”
When Judy and Maher first heard of the complaints against PSP, and its removal from CMU, they said they were shocked. Since talking to members of the fraternity after Kevin’s death, they said they know his death is also difficult for them to go through.
Members of PSP told Judy and Maher they didn’t receive due process during the university’s investigation of the fraternity, and that the incidents and allegations happened before they were on campus.
The Ajlunis said the fraternity has been very supportive of their family.
“I don’t want the school to use this incident (Kevin’s death) as a political situation,” Maher said. “Those boys are hurting; they’re affected too.”
Every day, Maher talks to Kevin.
Before he begins his day, Maher looks out the window, into the sky, and speaks to his son. He ends his day with a similar conversation.
“Kevin, we had a good day today, or a bad day, whatever day we had, that’s what we did. We miss you, you go to bed, rest comfortably. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’ And then I say ‘I love you,’” Maher said.
Though Kevin has been gone for almost a year, Maher said he is still very much with them. From hearing songs on the radio that Kevin loved, to constantly seeing Ryder trucks when driving, Maher said he feels that his son is there watching over him.
“I don’t really re-live it anymore,” Maher said. “We went through that; that was part of the grieving. We move on, but we never forget.”
Maher and Judy just recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. However, they said they weren’t able to actually celebrate because they’re still grieving. Judy said there’s nothing as painful as losing a child. She said they’ve hardly left the house since Kevin’s death.
“Everyday I ask myself, ‘Why isn’t he here? Why isn’t he working?” Judy said. “Why isn’t he calling me up saying ‘Mom did you leave work yet, what’s for dinner?’ It’s not fair. He was so kind, so nice, so welcoming, so giving.”
Now, Judy and Maher want to emphasize to others to make the time spent with loved ones count — to never take anything, or anyone, for granted.
“When I talk to people now — whether they have young families or young kids — I tell them my own experience,” Maher said. “(Then I tell them), cherish the moments you have with your kids because it can change in one minute, and it can change your whole life.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article said Ajluni's family was suing LaBelle, but they are actually suing Rentwood Management, which owns the house. LaBelle just manages the property.