LAPORTE | Ben Rison says he once liked the man now being held in connection with the strangulation death of his daughter Rayna when she dated him in middle school more than 20 years ago.
Rison also said he was not surprised, though, when police arrested Jason Tibbs, 38, of LaPorte, on a murder charge in the 1993 slaying.
Rayna Rison's younger sister, Wendy Hakes, also said she was not surprised that it was Tibbs taken into custody last week.
Ben Rison and Hakes declined to reveal why his arrest didn't come as a shock to them to avoid the possibility of jeopardizing prosecution of the case.
"I don't want to say too much. I don't want to give the defense attorneys any ammunition," Rison said.
Tibbs was arraigned Friday in LaPorte Circuit Court on a murder charge. He could face a sentence of 45 to 65 years.
Rison said Tibbs and Rayna dated each other in middle school and during that period "he was a likeable kid."
"Tibbs was very polite when he was with her. I had no problem with the young man," Rison said.
The first major break in the case came in 2008 when Rickey Hammons, who was incarcerated at the Wabash Correctional Facility, told authorities he was hiding in a barn when Tibbs and Eric Freeman drove a car into the barn.
He said the trunk lid on the car opened and he saw a body that he later found out was Rison's after reading newspaper stories of her disappearance and death.
In June, Freeman told authorities he was with Tibbs when Tibbs approached Rayna Rison as she got off work at the Pine Lake Animal Hospital about getting back together.
She refused, which led to an argument.
Freeman said all three of them drove to a spot on Fail Road where Rison and Tibbs stepped out of the car and began hitting each other. He said he then saw Tibbs strangle her, according to court documents.
Her badly decomposed body was found a month later in a small pond along Range Road in northern LaPorte County.
Hakes said Rison and Tibbs dated only briefly, but they remained friends afterwards.
She said her real love interest was Matt Elser, whom she dated for a much longer period of time.
"Her heart was with Matt," said Hakes, who only has vague memories of Tibbs. She described him as "kind of a jokester."
She said after Rayna's death her father never rested, conducting his own investigation and regularly staying in contact with the police.
Wendy said the arrest is "what my dad has lived for for all of these 20 years."
Ben Rison said he had a sense of relief at first but other feelings are emerging from having to relive the memories of his daughter's death, and as he learns new details about her death and as he wonders about the outcome if the case goes to trial
"The emotions are all back again. It's going to be one hell of a roller coaster now," he said.
Rison said he wishes his father and other family members who have died since the murder were here to find out about the arrest.
He also expressed remorse for the family of Tibbs, who he believes will experience the kind of suffering he and his family have had to endure all of these years.
"They had nothing to do with it so they're going to pay the price for what he has done. His family is going to need prayer," Rison said.