An illegal alien of Mexican nationality told police that he killed Mollie Tibbetts -- a University of Iowa student who had been reported missing -- in a paroxysm of panic when she tried to call for help on her cell phone. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, has been living in Iowa for at least four years. He is currently being held on a first-degree murder charge, according to local officials. Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Rick Rahn said at a press conference on Tuesday, "I can't speak about the motive. I can just tell you that it seemed that he followed her, seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day, for whatever reason he chose to abduct her." Rahn spoke to reporters outside the sheriff's office in Montezuma, where Rivera was jailed.
Police said that despite a month-long search, they had not been able to find Tibbetts until Rivera led them to her body. “These are hard,” Rahn said. “We get to know the family, we get to know Mollie, we just spoke with the family and I told them that they raised a great daughter. She was a phenomenal individual and so we are saddened for the family. It is difficult on the investigators, however that is what we’re here to do and we just try to do it the best we can. We’re just glad we were able to locate him, get him charged and hopefully come out with a successful conclusion and that being a conviction.”
Police obtained data from her electronic devices, including her cellphone and a FitBit fitness tracker, which they say assisted in the investigation. Surveillance video allowed police to track Rivera and the routes he took. They were able to determine that Rivera was one of the last people to have seen Tibbetts running. “The video was from the evening of July 18, 2018,” police said in the affidavit. “After review of the video it was determined that Mollie Tibbetts was running near the area of Boundary and Middle Streets when a dark-colored Chevy Malibu was in the same vicinity. The dark colored Chevy Malibu was seen numerous times driving back and forth in the area.”
On Monday, Rivera “admitted to making contact with a female running in Brooklyn and that he pursued her in his vehicle in an area east of Brooklyn” in Poweshiek County, Iowa. In his interview with police, “Rivera stated he parked the vehicle, got out and was running behind her and along side of her. Rivera stated she grabbed her phone and said ‘I’m gonna call the police.’ Rivera said he then panicked and got mad.”
Rivera’s former girlfriend is a Facebook friend of Mollie Tibbetts. Rivera posted on Facebook on June 15, 2013: “First Met Iris Monarrez. El mejor día de mi vida.” This translates to: “The best day of my life.” Monarrez also posted about Rivera on her Facebook page. Monarrez is also a Facebook friend of Scott Tibbetts and Jake Tibbetts. Jake and Scott are Mollie’s brothers.
According to Rahn, Rivera told investigators he had seen Tibbetts before, but did not provide any other details about that previous interaction or whether she knew him. At the press conference, Rahn said, “I know that he was working, and beyond that I’m not sure what he was doing coming and going. … He was employed here, but beyond that I don’t have any additional information.”
The report that Tibbetts had been brutally murdered drew outrage. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said "As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry." She said, "We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie's killer."
The 20-year-old Tibbetts had been jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18 when she vanished. ed. According to police, surveillance video helped in identifying Rivera, who police first questioned on Monday. His car was seen in the video, as was Tibbetts, who was seen running in front of Rivera’s car, according to police.
According to a statement from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, it has “lodged a detainer” request with the Poweshiek County sheriff’s office to hold Rivera in custody. Rivera led police to Tibbetts’ corpse, according to court documents. Rivera told police that he noticed Tibbetts jogging. "The defendant further described during the interview that he dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in a cornfield," the affidavit said.
According to a criminal complaint against him, he then followed her in his black Chevy Malibu. He told police that he descended from his car and started "running behind her and alongside her." According to the criminal complaint, Tibbetts reached for her cellphone and told Rivera that she was calling the police.
Rivera told police that he "got mad" and then panicked and blocked his memory. He claimed that is what happens when "he gets very upset." He claimed that he cannot remember anything after getting upset and until he arrived at an intersection. Rivera said he then turned his car into the entrance of a field near the rural town and pulled into a driveway. Driving into a field of corn, according to papers filed with the court, he then noticed that he had kept Tibbetts earphones in his lap. It was then that he remembered that Tibbetts was in the trunk of his car.
Once he stopped the car, Rivera said that he pulled Tibbetts out of the trunk. After finding blood on the side of her head, according to the complaint, Rivera dragged the girl from his car and to a location out of side in the cornfield. According to the complaint, Rivera told officials that he put Tibbetts over his shoulder and took her about 60 feet further into the field where he left her body face up and covered by cornstalks. Police found her body on rural property 10 miles from her hometown.
Rahn said that Rivera has been cooperative with detectives and has spoken with them with the help of a translator. An autopsy will be performed on Wednesday by the state medical examiner's office. Investigators hope to find out whether Tibbetts had been assaulted or tried to fight him off. In Iowa, a conviction on first-degree murder comes with a mandatory life sentence without parole. Iowa doesn't have the death penalty.
Tibbetts was at the home of her boyfriend, who was out of town, when she went for a job alone at approximately 7:30 p.m. local time. Co-workers called Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack, on the next morning to say that she had not reported for her job at daycare center in Grennell. A massive manhunt ensued that grabbed the attention of the nation and had been underway ever since. FBI in concert with state and local loca enforcement had been searching for her ever since.
Young Tibbetts had been scheduled to begin her sophomore year at the University of Iowa this week. Her education had included training to help abused women and men, according to members of her family. She was a psychology major. Brooklyn is a city of about 1,400 people in eastern Iowa, which is Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.Tibbetts spent part of her growing years in the Oakland, California, area, where her father lives. She and her two brothers later moved to her mother’s native Iowa, where she graduated from Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School in 2017.
Kim Calderwood, Mollie’s aunt, told the Des Moines Register that her niece was “strong and sassy and a fighter and stubborn and she is not a quitter.” Calderwood said that Tibbetts was “a “beautiful, positive girl.” Tibbetts ran track, competed on the debate team, and was involved with St. Bridget Roman Catholic parish.
Mollie’s mother, Laura Calderwood, told The Gazette Molie loved school. “She’s very intelligent and she loved college and really enjoyed studying. She loves life and lives it to the fullest. She is very happy and social, she loved to sing and perform and she loves caring for the kids at the day care where she works.” Laura Calderwood lives in Iowa, while Mollie’s father, Robert Tibbetts, lives in Oakland, California. Mollie was the middle child in her family.
Mollie’s disappearance shocked her small hometown. “We’re a close-knit community and I couldn’t even imagine this happening to one of my kids. We love Mollie. They’re family and we look after each other,” Carla Kriegel told the Globe Gazette. “A daughter to anybody in this community is a daughter to everybody. We all hope the same effort would be made toward our own children,” town resident Joy Vanlandschoot, who has helped with the efforts, told the Des Moines Register.
Vice President Mike Pence visited with the Tibbetts’ family last week and later tweeted, “Heartbroken by the news about Mollie Tibbetts. Mollie was an amazing young woman and we are praying for her parents, brothers & friends in this time of unimaginable grief. We commend the swift action by local, state, & federal investigators working in Iowa in apprehending an illegal immigrant, who’s now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served. We will never forget Mollie Tibbetts.”
The University of Iowa mourned Tibbetts’ death. Melissa Shivers, speaking for the university, said, "We are deeply saddened that we've lost a member of the University of Iowa community," and urged students to seek counseling if necessary.