IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Investigators have recovered a body of 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared from her small hometown in central Iowa a month ago, police said Tuesday.
St. George News originally reported on the Tibbetts’ disappearance July 25 when local law enforcement sent media outlets the announcement that Tibbetts had family in Washington County and requested the public be on the lookout for her.
The body was discovered in rural Poweshiek County, which includes Tibbetts’ hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a press release.
At a news conference police said a man in the country illegally has been charged with murder in the death of Tibbetts.
A charge of 1st degree murder has been filed against 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera. If convicted, the charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Investigators say they used surveillance video in tracking down Rivera. The video showed Tibbetts jogging in a rural area near her hometown of Brooklyn as well as Rivera’s car.
Police had searched the area but noted her body was found in a field, covered with corn stalks.
Investigators said Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student, was last seen July 18 in Brooklyn, a rural town of about 1,400 people, as she took a routine evening jog. It’s unclear whether she returned to the home where she was dog-sitting for her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s brother, who have said they were both out of town. She was reported missing by her family the next day after she didn’t show up for work at a day camp for children.
Tibbetts’ disappearance set off a massive search involving dozens of officers from the FBI, as well as state and local agencies. They focused much of their efforts in and around Brooklyn, searching farm fields, ponds and homes. Investigators asked anyone who was around five locations – including a car wash, a truck stop and a farm south of town – to report if they saw anything suspicious on July 18.
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence met privately with the Tibbetts family during a visit to Iowa and told them that “you’re on the hearts of every American.”
While hundreds of people have been interviewed, no suspects have been publicly identified in Tibbetts’ disappearance. Investigators have said that foul play, including the possibility that she was abducted, could be involved, saying that disappearing on her own would be inconsistent with past behavior.
Willey’s group has been publicizing a reward fund that raised around $400,000 for any tip that led to Tibbetts’ safe return. He said the fund, which included more than 220 donations from individuals, will now likely be used for any information that helps police catch anyone responsible for her death.
“Once they catch their breath, this will turn into a weapon going the other direction, to catch the person who did it,” he said.
Tibbetts, a psychology major, would have started her junior year this week in Iowa City, about 50 miles east of Brooklyn. She was staying with her longtime boyfriend and working while home from school over the summer.
Written by RYAN FOLEY, Associated Press.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Aug. 21 at 4:28 p.m. to reflect that a suspect has been charged.
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