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Two Weeks After Mollie Tibbetts Was Found Dead, the Grief of One Family Has Become a Tragedy for the Entire Nation
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Photo: Stephen Mally

Two Weeks After Mollie Tibbetts Was Found Dead, the Grief of One Family Has Become a Tragedy for the Entire Nation

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BROOKLYN, IOWA – September 5, 2018

The story of Mollie Tibbetts, which is, in the words of Vice President Mike Pence, ‘on the hearts of every American’, is not yet over. The death of the girl from a small city in Iowa made headlines across the nation and became a cause for the promotion of a racist agenda. Missing posters cover light poles and the doors to businesses throughout the community, showing photos of the young woman smiling with her boyfriend and her family. But after her death, Molly has become nothing more than a political bargaining chip for republicans. Mollie Tibbetts' father says his daughter would not want to be face of immigration debate.

On July 18, 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts vanished in a small city in eastern Iowa. She was dog-sitting in Brooklyn, Iowa, on Wednesday night when she headed out for a jog dressed in typical workout gear. “Mollie Tibbetts was last seen running through a neighborhood on the outskirts of Brooklyn, a small city about 70 miles east of Des Moines, Iowa,” – USA Today reports. She was reported missing the following day, Thursday, July 19, after she failed to turn up at work.

Dalton Jack, her boyfriend of nearly three years, told KCRG he was out of town for work — more than 100 miles away in Dubuque — when Tibbetts went missing. Before she disappeared, Jack said Tibbetts had been at his house, watching his dogs. He said he opened a Snapchat selfie from her at around 10 p.m. July 18, according to WOI.

“It was just a selfie with a caption, and I don’t remember what the caption said, but it looked like she was inside,” Jack told WOI in an interview. He sent her a text early the next morning, but as he told KCRG, it appeared she never read his message, and as he learned later that day, Tibbetts also didn’t show up for work.

“I still call her every day, too, hoping by some weird chance she will pick up,” said Jack. “It just goes straight to voicemail. The phone is dead.”

After repeated phone calls and messages went unanswered, her family reported her missing on July 19.

Julie Weiss, an employee at BGM, the local K-12 school, said her son graduated with Mollie and that they were casual friends. According to Weiss, her son was in “total shock” when he found out. “It’s just unbelievable that something like that could happen here, in a small town where everybody knows everybody.”

“It’s frustrating; it’s powerless,” said the student's aunt, Kim Calderwood. “We’re racking our brains, thinking what can we think of to tell the investigators. It’s the worst thing … to want to fix something you can't fix.”

Since Mollie Tibbetts vanished July 18, 48 other people have been listed as missing on the Iowa Department of Public Safety’s database. They hail from all over the state, from towns and cities big and small – and the vast majority of them are under 20 years old.

“In light of the missing person investigation of Mollie Tibbetts, concerns have come to light about the number of juveniles reported missing in Iowa in recent weeks,” the Iowa Department of Public Safety acknowledged in late July as national interest in the Tibbetts case was heating up.

Twitter/Shannon Kelly

Since she was reported missing, hundreds of people helped in the search for Mollie. Both state and federal agencies got involved in the case that’s captured national attention. Authorities even launched a website, findingmollie.iowa.gov, which encouraged people to offer any possible tips regarding Ms Tibbetts' whereabouts. Mollie’s story also attracted wide notice on social media, with celebrities such as Brandon Routh and American Idol‘s Maddie Poppe sharing information about her.

Iesha Husted, who last saw her brother Sebastian in January in Centerville, Iowa, even began to feel that the coverage of Mollie’s case was in sharp contrast to the others missing from Iowa, and attracted too much attention, shifting the focus away from searching for other juveniles. “Nobody has written about it,” she said about her brother’s disappearance. “I think it is because our family is poor. We don’t have the funds to get his face out there,” said Husted, 25. “We don’t have a tight-knit community to rally around. A lot of people think he was an 18-year-old boy running away from his problems.”

“She really does not have a single enemy — everybody loves Mollie,” Mollie's friend Alyssa King told PEOPLE magazine, describing Mollie as always there when she was needed and “always trying to make people laugh.”

“At a press conference Thursday, Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, revealed that in just one day, the Bring Mollie Tibbetts Home Safe Reward Fund raised $172,000 in reward money for information leading to her daughter’s safe return,” – the People reported on August 2. “We believe Mollie is still alive and if someone abducted her, we are pleading with you to please release her,” Calderwood said during the press conference. “It is our greatest hope that if someone has her, they will just release her.”

“Every day, I feel Mollie’s presence with me,” Calderwood added. “Sometimes I just feel her sitting on my shoulder. She was an incredibly strong young woman. Mollie is lending me here strength every day, every night.” She also called the mystery around what happened to her daughter “excruciating.” “[There are] no words to describe how you feel when you don’t know where or how your child is,” she said in an interview with ABC.

At an August 3 news conference, Kevin Winker, the director of investigative operations for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, outlined in general terms the expansive sweeps conducted so far in search of Tibbetts. “We have been searching ponds, fields and even from the air, so we’ve been doing searches in many different manners,” he said.

After several weeks, Mollie Tibbetts was found dead in a field not far from where she vanished, the body was located in the field in Poweshiek County. The discovery of her remains marked the end that her loved ones never hoped to see. By the time the body of the girl was found, a reward fund for information leading to her safe return had grown to more than $400,000, Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa said.

The same day the news broke that Mollie’s body had been found, the first alleged suspect appeared.

As reported by the Washington Post, the suspect was identified as 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who authorities said was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Rivera worked at a local farm for the past four years, according to the Associated Press. Authorities also spelled Rivera’s first name as Christian.

Twitter/Tom Cotton

He was charged with first-degree murder, with a potential penalty of life in prison, according to Rick Rahn, a special agent in charge for the sector at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

But this was not the end of Mollie’s story. Soon after her death, paint that read “Deport Illegals” appeared on the road near a predominantly Latino community near Des Moines.

CNN.com/PrtSc

“The sprayed-on sentiment didn't last the day, but some officials in the Iowa city are worried it's indicative of a simmering resentment for immigrants that has become more public recently,” CNN reports.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly used the killing of 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbetts as fuel for a new round of political attacks less than three months out from the midterm elections.

Republicans are increasingly following suit, both in Iowa, where authorities on Tuesday charged with Tibbetts' murder a man they say is an undocumented immigrant, and in other states where immigration policy could affect both primary and general election contests.

“What happened to Mollie was a disgrace, and our hearts go out,” Trump said while speaking to Republicans in Ohio Friday. After mentioning two other examples of crimes committed by an undocumented immigrant, he added: “Democrat immigration policies are destroying innocent lives and spilling very innocent blood. We believe that any party that puts criminal aliens before American citizens should be out of office, not into office.”

Trump also posted a video on Twitter this week in which he used Tibbetts' death to attack Democrats over immigration policy. “Mollie Tibbetts, an incredible young woman, is now permanently separated from her family,” he said. “A person came in from Mexico, illegally, and killed her. We need the wall. We need our immigration laws changed. We need our border laws changed, we need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren't going to do it.”

Over the past few days, despite that members of Tibbetts' family have requested that her death not be politicized, some Republicans have followed Trump's lead and used her death as a campaign season cudgel.

Iowa Republicans, from Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is also on the ballot this fall, to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have made clear connections between Tibbetts' death and US immigration policy. "As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry," Reynolds tweeted on Tuesday, soon after Rivera's arrest.

In a joint statement, Grassley and Ernst echoed Reynolds' remarks and said, “Too many Iowans have been lost at the hands of criminals who broke our immigration laws. We cannot allow these tragedies to continue.”

Ernst doubled down in a Thursday tweet linking to an interview she had done with Breitbart, a far-right website that regularly backs Trump, in which the host called the killing an “execution” and called out Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren for pivoting, during an interview on CNN's “New Day,” from Tibbetts' death to criticism of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance border policy and the resulting family separation crisis. “The families who are separated at the border will come together again,” Ernst wrote. “Mollie will never be with her family again.”

As Mollie’s father watched a memorial service for U.S. Sen. John McCain, he remembered how people across the country rallied behind his family for most of the summer as they followed the search for his daughter, Mollie. He sensed that spirit of unity again as people from across the political spectrum came together for the longtime senator, in an effort that transcended their diverse opinions. 

Rob Tibbetts wants people to know his family does not want to be featured in any political cause, he wrote in a column he shared exclusively with the Des Moines Register on Friday.

While national news outlets continue to call him and send fruit baskets and describe Mollie as an “inspiration to the world,” Tibbetts and his family just want to be left alone. “We want Mollie to die with dignity,” he said.

“Please leave us out of your debate,” Tibbetts wrote in his guest column in the Register. “At long last, show some decency.”

Author: USA Really