Relatives of Mollie Tibbetts have taken to social media condemning the politicization of the University of Iowa student’s death after the White House and U.S. President Donald Trump invoked her name in connection with the administration’s immigration agenda.
Tibbetts, a 20-year-old psychology major, had disappeared while jogging on 18 July 2018, sparking a frantic but fruitless search near her hometown of Brooklyn, a rural community east of Des Moines. On 21 August 2018 her body was located in a field, and shortly afterwards investigators linked 24-year-old Mexican national Cristhian Rivera to the murder, saying surveillance footage showed him following Tibbetts in his car.
Responding to news reports that Rivera was in the country illegally, the White House official Twitter channel posted a message linking Tibbetts’ death to lax immigration policies:
For 34 days, investigators searched for 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. Yesterday, an illegal alien, now charged with first-degree murder, led police to the cornfield where her body was found.
The Tibbetts family has been permanently separated. They are not alone. pic.twitter.com/BBskwHEJoU
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 22, 2018
A host of politicians, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Vice President Mike Pence, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) jumped in as well, blaming the tragedy on a failure to clamp down on immigration. Kelli Ward, who is running for U.S. Senate in Arizona, blamed Arizona’s Republican senators, Jeff Flake and then-ailing John McCain, for their role in what she called contributing to “these senseless deaths” by advocating for “open borders”:
The lack of leadership & courage by open border senators like @JeffFlake, @SenJohnMcCain, & #amnesty advocate Martha McSally contribute to these senseless deaths. We need true leadership in the Senate to #BuildTheWall & secure our borders! #VoteWard #AZSEN https://t.co/dZIkQWB8YJ
— Dr. Kelli Ward (@kelliwardaz) August 21, 2018
When members of Tibbetts’ family have weighed in on the fray, they have done so to express disdain for the memory of their slain loved one’s being dragged into political flame wars over immigration. But the family hasn’t collectively made any official statement about the rash of political figures using the murder for partisan purposes.
Tibbetts’ distant cousin, Sam Lucas, reacted on Twitter to one such comment posted by the communications director of the pro-Trump lobbying group Turning Point USA, calling Candace Owens a “snake” for using the tragedy to score political points:
hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth. https://t.co/xxZNBF0Uv9
— sam (@samlucasss) August 22, 2018
During his daughter’s memorial service on 26 August 2018, Rob Tibbetts characterized the local Latino community as being compassionate and having “the same values as Iowans. As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food.” He did not respond to comments about his daughter’s death made by President Trump.
On 24 August 2018, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy responded with a statement she posted to her Facebook account, condemning those who would “usurp Mollie and her legacy for your racist, false narrative now that she is no longer with us.” The post went on to give statistics showing that men are vastly more likely to commit murder and engage in domestic violence, linking the death not to immigration but to “toxic masculinity.”
“You do not get to use her murder to inaccurately promote your ‘permanently separated’ hyperbole,” Murphy wrote, taking an apparent swing at the White House tweet that linked murders committed by undocumented immigrants with the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy:
No, no and no.
Especially for those of you who did not know her in life, you do not get to usurp Mollie and her legacy for your racist, false narrative now that she is no longer with us. We hereby reclaim our Mollie.
Mollie was a young, intelligent, caring woman with a ready smile and a compassionate heart. So many across the state of Iowa and the entire country embraced her, and us, as we all searched and hoped for her safe return. It was not to be. Mollie was killed, and a man has been arrested and charged with her murder. Yes, that man is an immigrant to this country, with uncertainty as to his legal status. But it matters not. He could have been a citizen, born in this country; he could have been an older, white man from anywhere; he could have been a man from Mollie’s world. He is a man, whose path in life crossed that of Mollie’s life, with tragic results. He is a man who felt entitled to impose himself on Mollie’s life, without consequence. He is a man who, because of his sense of male entitlement, refused to allow Mollie the right to reject his advances – the right to her own autonomy. Mollie was murdered because a man denied her right to say no.
Our national discussion needs to be about the violence committed in our society, mostly by men, as seen by these grim statistics from the FBI:
• 89.5% of murders are committed by men.
• 98.9% of forcible rapes are committed by men.
• 80% of violence against families and children is committed by men.
• 85% of intimate partner violence is committed by men.
We must be willing to address the way we raise our boys and young men, so that violence is not a part of their response to this world. Like the recent murders of the Colorado family or the similarly tragic homicide of Kate Steinle, Mollie’s death is further example of the toxic masculinity that exists in our society.
Mollie’s murder is truly tragic and horrifically painful for all of us who knew and loved her, the extinguishing of a treasured spirit much too soon. It is not your right to exacerbate this grievous act by hijacking Mollie and all she believed with your racist fear-mongering. You do not get to use her murder to inaccurately promote your “permanently separated” hyperbole. You do not have permission to callously use this tragedy to demonize an entire population for the acts of one man.
No. We reclaim our Mollie.
Murphy’s post was shared tens of thousands of times and was characterized by some as an “official family statement,” while others claimed it had been written by Tibbetts’ mother. Murphy never claimed to be speaking behalf of the family in any official capacity, nor is she Tibbetts’ mother. (Mollie’s mother is Laura Calderwood).
We reached out to Murphy via Facebook Messenger and email and haven’t received a response, but she was described as one of Mollie Tibbetts’ cousins in a 27 July 2018 Washington Post article about the search for the young woman.
Citing safety concerns, two upcoming Latino festivals (one in Perry and the other in Iowa City) were cancelled in the wake of events.