On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump released a video acknowledging the death of Mollie Tibbetts, the college student murdered after going for an evening jog in rural Iowa. But among his expressions of sympathy and sadness was another, more divisive message.
“Mollie Tibbetts, an incredible young woman, is now permanently separated from her family. A person came in from Mexico, illegally, and killed her,” Trump said in the clip. “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.
“This is one instance of many. We have tremendous crime trying to come through the borders.”
The President is just one of many politicising the 20-year-old’s murder, wrenching a single crime and a family’s personal tragedy into the national debate about immigration. And her loved ones are despairing.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 22, 2018Advertisement
Mollie’s body was discovered in a farm field on Tuesday, five weeks after she disappeared while running in the small Iowan city of Brooklyn. The same day, police charged 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera with her murder. It was he who led them to her remains.
While investigators are yet to reveal an alleged motive, Special Agent Rick Rahn of Iowa’s Department of Criminal Investigation told media Rivera was familiar with Mollie prior to her murder.
“He told us he had seen Mollie in the past and on that particular day, July 18, 2018, he happened to see her, he was drawn to her, and as a result, kind of followed her around a little bit and ultimately confronted her. And ended up tackling her and ultimately abducting her,” Rahn said, according to NBC.
A post-mortem examination determined that her cause of death was “multiple sharp force injuries”.
Rivera’s attorney stated in a Wednesday court motion that her client is in the United States legally. However, a spokesperson from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Des Moines Register they have no records to that effect.
Hard-line conservatives saw and opportunity and seized on it. Among them, Iowa’s Governor, Kim Reynolds, who released a statement expressing her anger that “a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community”.
Mollie's aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, expressed her disappointment that her niece's death was being leveraged in such a way.
"I don't want Mollie's memory to get lost amongst politics," she told CNN.
Mollie's second cousin, Sam Lucas, expressed a similar opinion after conservative activist and commentator Candace Owens tweeted, "Leftists boycotted, screamed, and cried when illegal immigrants were temporarily separated from from their parents. What will they do for Mollie Tibbetts?"
Responding to Owens' sentiment, Lucas wrote, "I’m a member of Mollie’s family and we are not so f***ing small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. Now stop being a f***ing snake and using my cousin's death as political propaganda. Take her name out of your mouth.
"And FYI [Candace Owens], my whole family is hurting right now and you’re not helping. You’re despicable and this is so far from the loving and kind soul that Mollie was. My prayers go out to you in hopes that maybe you’ll become a better person. Not hedging my bets tho. [sic]"
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
Her message has been retweeted more than 100,000 times and earned 388,000 reactions.
But still the hate keeps coming. Lucas told The Washington Post at least one critic told her she ought to have died instead of Mollie.
Speaking at a public vigil for Mollie on Wednesday, Mollie's friend Breck Goodman said the college student wouldn't have agreed with the anti-immigration message.
"I also know what Mollie stood for ... and she would not approve," Goodman said according to CNN. "So I don't want her death to be used as propaganda. I don't want her death to be used for more prejudice and for more discrimination, and I don't think she would want that, either."
A preliminary hearing for Rivera's murder charge is scheduled for August 31.