Killing of Mollie Tibbetts

On July 18, 2018, American University of Iowa student Mollie Cecilia Tibbetts disappeared while jogging near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa. A month later, police identified 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera as a suspect in connection with the disappearance; surveillance footage showed Rivera's car following Tibbetts on her jog. Rivera led police to the body of Tibbetts in a Poweshiek County cornfield on August 21. He was charged with first-degree murder.

Mollie Tibbetts
Mollie Tibbetts.jpg
Mollie Tibbetts
Mollie Cecilia Tibbetts

(1998-05-08)May 8, 1998
DisappearedJuly 18, 2018
Brooklyn, Iowa, U.S.
StatusFound dead
August 21, 2018(2018-08-21) (aged 20)
Body discoveredPoweshiek County, Iowa, U.S.
EducationUniversity of Iowa
OccupationChildren's day camp worker
EmployerGrinnell Regional Medical Center
  • Robert Tibbetts (father)
  • Laura Calderwood (mother)

Rivera's immigration status became a politicized issue after police, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement indicated that he had been in the United States illegally. The Trump administration and Republicans used the killing as a talking point in favor of more restrictive immigration policies. Tibbetts's family denounced efforts to use Tibbetts's death for political purposes.[1]


Mollie Cecilia Tibbetts was born on May 8, 1998, in San Francisco, California, to Rob Tibbetts and Laura Tibbetts. When she was in the second grade, her parents divorced, and she moved to Iowa with her mother and two siblings.[2] Her father kept a close relationship with the children and he last saw Mollie at his wedding in June 2018.[3][4] At the time of her disappearance, she was a resident of Brooklyn, Iowa, a small town about 70 miles (110 km) east of Des Moines, and a psychology major at the University of Iowa.[5] She worked at a children's day camp at Grinnell Regional Medical Center and was preparing for her sophomore year in college when she disappeared.[2][6]


On July 18, 2018, Tibbetts, a former cross country runner, left the home of her boyfriend's brother in Brooklyn for an evening jog.[2][5] She was last seen at approximately 7:30 p.m. CDT and was reported missing by her family when she did not show up for work the following day.[7] According to police, her last confirmed communication was with her boyfriend of three years, shortly before leaving for her jog.[2] Her boyfriend was out of town for work in Dubuque, Iowa, over 130 miles (210 km) away.[8] He told investigators he received a Snapchat message from her later in the evening that appeared to show her indoors.[5]


Over the next several weeks, police in multiple states investigated hundreds of leads in the case,[9] including an unconfirmed sighting at a truck stop in Kearney, Missouri[7] (later confirmed to have been false),[9] but were not able to locate Tibbetts. They received over 2,300 tips[10] and conducted over 500 interviews during the course of the investigation.[11] As she was known to always wear her Fitbit activity tracker, police attempted to use its data to help find her.[12]

About four weeks after Tibbetts' disappearance, police said that the search had been refocused to several specific areas in and around Brooklyn, including her boyfriend's home, a truck stop, a car wash, and two area farms.[13] Prior to the discovery of Tibbetts' body, monetary rewards for information leading to closure in the case had reached over $366,000, surpassing the previous record reward amount raised by the local Crime Stoppers branch.[14] As the money was to be used as a reward on the condition of her safe return, Crime Stoppers announced that the money would be returned to those who requested it, or dispersed to the general Crime Stoppers fund and/or to the Tibbetts family.[15]

On August 21, police in Iowa announced that a body had been found in Poweshiek County,[16] where Tibbetts' hometown of Brooklyn is located; the body was identified as Tibbetts' in an autopsy that was conducted two days later by the Iowa State Medical Examiner.[17] They had been led to the site by 24-year-old suspect Cristhian Bahena Rivera.[16][18]

On August 23, the Iowa State Medical Examiner performed an autopsy and recorded the cause of death as "multiple sharp force injuries" and the manner as homicide.[17][18]


Cristhian Bahena Rivera, age 24, lived and worked in the rural Poweshiek County area where Tibbetts vanished.[19][20] Originally from El Guayabillo, Guerrero, Mexico,[21] he arrived illegally in the United States at age 17 and had lived in the area for several years.[22] He had worked at another farm before coming to Yarrabee Farms near Brooklyn, Iowa, in August 2014.[22] Rivera self-identified and received his paychecks under the name John Budd.[23][24]

Rivera became a target of investigators after they obtained footage from a nearby surveillance camera, showing a Chevrolet Malibu driving back and forth in the area where Tibbetts was jogging. After linking the car to him, police approached him without incident.[25][26] They said that he confessed to kidnapping and killing her, and then dumping her body. According to an affidavit filed by the Poweshiek County Sheriff's Office, he led them to the body in a secluded location within a cornfield.[27]

Immigration statusEdit

A spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said its systems did not indicate Rivera "has any lawful immigration status."[28] Later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed this determination, by saying "law enforcement remains absolutely confident that we've correctly identified the suspect as an illegal alien from Mexico, based both on investigative interviews with him and on records checks."[29][30] Rivera worked at Yarrabee Farms, owned by the family of a prominent Iowa Republican leader, Craig Lang. As part of his employment, the Lang family allowed Rivera to live rent-free on their land. Yarabee Farms initially claimed that they had vetted Rivera's immigration status through the federal E-Verify program. After E-Verify indicated that Yarabee Farms was not subscribed to its program, Yarabee Farms said it used the Social Security Administration system and clarified that Rivera had given them false information.[28][31][32][33][34] In a motion for a gag order on August 22, Rivera's lawyer said Rivera was in the United States legally.[28]

Legal proceedingsEdit

On August 22, 2018, Rivera was charged with first-degree murder.[21] The judge raised his bond from $1 million to $5 million when the prosecutor noted him as a flight risk.[35]

On August 24, Rivera changed his legal counsel. Chad and Jennifer Frese, a married couple who normally work for different law firms, were privately retained by Rivera's relatives to represent him.[36] On September 19, Rivera pleaded not guilty.[37]


Memorials and tributesEdit

Tibbetts' younger brother and his football team memorialized her by printing her initials on the team jerseys.[38] Some runners used the hashtag #MilesforMollie to highlight harassment and safety issues experienced by women who run, since she had been attacked while running.[39][40] Her friends started an online group that gained attention on social media called "The Mollie Movement", which encourages people to be kind to each other in her honor.[41] During her funeral, her family called for mourners to remember her passion for life and desire to help others, by "celebrating something wonderful", such as her father highlighting the marriage of Blake and Allie Jack, who had been married the day previous. Mollie would have been maid of honor at their wedding.[42]

Politicization of Tibbetts's deathEdit

The case became a political talking point for more restrictive immigration policies.[43] Opponents of illegal immigration emphasized that the suspect had entered the country illegally,[44][45] despite research showing that undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.[46][47][48] Liberals characterized the politicization of Tibbetts's as fearmongering. Vice President Mike Pence called attention to the case at the beginning of a speech in Des Moines on August 15, telling a crowd of President Donald Trump's supporters that the government would continue to provide "any and all federal support" to the case. Pence later met with the Tibbetts family aboard Air Force Two.[14] President Trump made a widely criticized video statement on August 22 saying: “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."[49] A campaign email sent by the Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. committee blamed Democrats' immigration policies for Tibbetts' death.[45]

In August 2018, after the body of Tibbetts was recovered, the Tibbetts family released a statement in which they asked for time and privacy.[50] In addition, Tibbetts's father—responding to Donald Trump, Jr.—criticized as "heartless" and "despicable" the use of Tibbetts's death for political purposes; he especially decried its use against immigrants.[1][42] Tibbetts's father said, "The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans. As far as I'm concerned, they're Iowans with better food".[51] He denounced those who "appropriate Mollie's soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist."[52]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Nozicka, Luke (September 1, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts' father says daughter would not want to be face of immigration debate". Des Moines Register. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Kilen, Mike (July 24, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts' family refuses to give up, asks for help to find her". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  3. ^ Nozicka, Luke (August 22, 2018). "She's nurturing. She's a Harry Potter fan. We all know Mollie Tibbetts' face, but her friends and family say she's so much more". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  4. ^ "From Oakland to Iowa, Mollie Tibbetts' family relies on two communities and clings to hope". The Mercury News. August 8, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Ta, Linh; Fleig, Shelby; James, Mike; Bacon, John (August 21, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts: Iowa college student's body believed to be found". USA Today. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  6. ^ Nozicka, Luke (August 20, 2018). "She's nurturing. She's a Harry Potter fan. We all know Mollie Tibbetts' face, but her friends and family say she's so much more". Des Moines Register. Retrieved October 9, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Winsor, Morgan (August 6, 2018). "The disappearance of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts: A timeline". ABC News. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  8. ^ "Authorities believe Mollie Tibbetts' body found: Timeline of Iowa woman's disappearance". ABC 7 Chicago. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  9. ^ a b Keneally, Meghan (July 31, 2018). "Police follow up on hundreds of leads in missing Iowa jogger case". ABC News. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  10. ^ Navarro, Chantelle (August 18, 2018). "Rob Tibbetts goes home, Mollie's family "returning to day-to-day lives"". KCRG-TV. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  11. ^ Crist, Carolyn (August 15, 2018). "Can Fitbit Data Really Help the Search for Missing Runner Mollie Tibbetts?". Runner's World. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  12. ^ Shapiro, Emily (August 6, 2018). "Investigators examine missing Iowa jogger's Fitbit data as search for 20-year-old moves to 9th day". ABC News. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  13. ^ "Mollie Tibbetts, missing Iowa college student, found dead". CBS News. August 21, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Nozicka, Luke; Pfannenstiel, Brianne (August 15, 2018). "Mike Pence, who met with family of Mollie Tibbetts: "You're on the hearts of every American"". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  15. ^ Felton, Ellyn. "Crime Stoppers announces where money from Mollie Tibbetts safe reward fund will go". KCRG-TV9. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Mollie Tibbetts, missing Iowa college student, found dead, reports say". Des Moines Register. August 21, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  17. ^ a b Levenson, Eric. "Mollie Tibbetts autopsy finds that she died by 'multiple sharp force injuries'". CNN. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  18. ^ a b "Preliminary Autopsy Results Available in Poweshiek County Case". Iowa Department of Public Safety. August 23, 2018. Archived from the original on August 23, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  19. ^ "Body found believed to be missing Iowa jogger; murder charge filed". ABC News. August 21, 2018. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  20. ^ Darrah, Nicole (August 21, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts murder suspect ID'd as Cristhian Rivera". Fox News. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  21. ^ a b Clayworth, Jason (August 22, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts case: What we know about the undocumented immigrant charged with her murder". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  22. ^ a b Klein, Ann; Smith, Mitch; Jordan, Miriam (August 24, 2018). "How the Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts's Death Built a Life in an Iowa Farm Town". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  23. ^ "Man charged in Mollie Tibbetts' death was known by another name". CBS News. Associated Press. September 5, 2018. Retrieved September 6, 2018.
  24. ^ Ryan Foley (September 5, 2018). "Immigrant charged in Tibbetts' death used 'John Budd' alias to secure job at Yarrabee Farms". Des Moines Register. Associated Press. Retrieved September 6, 2018. During his four years at the farm near the small town of Brooklyn, Iowa, Bahena Rivera “was called and responded to the name he used in the hiring process,”
  25. ^ Chavez, Nicole (August 22, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts case mystified police until a security camera offered a key clue". CNN. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  26. ^ Castillo, Larissa. "Alleged Murderer of Mollie Tibbets Confessed, Led Authorities to Body". Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  27. ^ "Arrest Warrant/Order for Warrant/Complaint and Affidavit" (PDF). Iowa Department of Public Safety. August 21, 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 23, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  28. ^ a b c Clayworth, Jason (August 23, 2018). "Lawyer: Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts' slaying worked in Iowa legally. Not true, says employer". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  29. ^ Davis, Tyler J.; Trautmann, Mike (August 27, 2018). "Is he here legally? The facts surrounding the immigration status of Mollie Tibbetts' accused killer". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 29, 2018. ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer tells the Register that "law enforcement remains absolutely confident that we've correctly identified the suspect as an illegal alien from Mexico
  30. ^ Klein, Ann; Smith, Mitch (August 22, 2018). "Killing of Mollie Tibbetts in Iowa Inflames Immigration Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved August 29, 2018. He is "an illegal alien from Mexico," said Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE
  31. ^ Eller, Donnelle; Hardy, Kevin (August 25, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts' death puts a spotlight on undocumented workers. But can Iowa's economy thrive without them?". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 25, 2018. But the family later corrected themselves, saying they realized an employee had used a less-thorough Social Security Administration system to check Rivera's status, and he had supplied false information.
  32. ^ "The Latest: Suspect Worked at Farm Tied to Republican Farmer". The New York Times. Associated Press. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  33. ^ Cannon, Austin. "Cristhian Rivera, charged in Mollie Tibbetts' death, worked at a farm owned by a prominent Iowa Republican family". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  34. ^ Foley, Ryan. "Mollie Tibbetts murder suspect lived on land owned by GOP fundraiser". ABC 11. Associated Press. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  35. ^ "Mollie Tibbetts murder suspect worked under fake name". August 22, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  36. ^ Gruber-Miller, Stephen (August 27, 2018). "Mollie Tibbetts case: Suspect Cristhian Rivera changes lawyers". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  37. ^ KGAN, KEVIN GLUECK. "Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts slaying pleads not guilty". WRSP. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  38. ^ "Led by her brother, a team — and a town — tries to return to normal in aftermath of Mollie Tibbetts' death". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  39. ^ "#MilesForMollie: Why runners are dedicating workouts to Mollie Tibbetts". ABC7 Chicago. August 25, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  40. ^ Ta, Linh (August 24, 2018). "#MilesforMollie: Female runners vow to keep going in honor of Mollie Tibbetts despite her violent death". Des Moines Register. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  41. ^ Guerrero, Juan Carlos; Thomas, Eric (August 26, 2018). "'The Mollie Movement' Spreads Acts Of Kindness To Honor Slain Iowa College Student". ABC 7 News. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  42. ^ a b "Hundreds Mourn Mollie Tibbetts At Funeral". Time. Retrieved August 27, 2018.
  43. ^ "How Mollie Tibbetts' Death Became Political Fodder in Matter of Hours". Time. Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  44. ^ Ta, Linh (July 18, 2019). "Rep. Steve King says 3 killed in Des Moines would be alive if 'illegal alien' wasn't in Iowa". Des Moines Register. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  45. ^ a b "Trump campaign again draws Mollie Tibbetts' name into immigration debate despite family's objections". Des Moines Register. July 20, 2019. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
  46. ^ Peters, Jeremy W. (August 23, 2018). "How Politics Took Over the Killing of Mollie Tibbetts". The New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  47. ^ Mosher, Dave. "Mollie Tibbetts' death is being used to push debunked ideas about illegal immigration and violent crime". Business Insider. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  48. ^ "Mollie Tibbetts's father decries vitriol against Hispanics, saying they're 'Iowans with better food'". Washington Post. 2018.
  49. ^ "Trump on Mollie Tibbetts: We need the wall". The Gazette. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  50. ^ "Statement from Family of Mollie Tibbetts". Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  51. ^ Calfas, Jennifer. "'The Hispanic Community Are Iowans.', Mollie Tibbetts' Dad Rebukes the Politicization of Her Death". Time. Retrieved August 28, 2018.
  52. ^ Andone, Dakin. "Mollie Tibbetts' father: Don't use her death for 'racist' agenda". CNN. Retrieved September 2, 2018.