Mollie Tibbetts: A story gone wrong

    More than the tragic situation of Tibbett’s death was twisted

    More stories from Rebecca Mennecke


    Tibbetts was just 20 years old when she was allegedly stabbed to death by Cristhian Rivera, sparking outrage against illegal immigrants.

    Mollie Tibbetts was a young woman not unlike myself. She was 20 years old at the time of her death, only a year older than me. She was studying Psychology at the University of Iowa, a major that, up until a few months ago, I too had been studying. She had two brothers, one older and one younger. I’m also a middle child.

    I understand the story of Tibbetts in a way that many do — I relate to her.


    I followed her story from the first few Facebook posts about her disappearance until I watched President Donald Trump address her murder on national television.


    In what Pacific Standard described as a “political crusade,” many conservatives used the immigration status of Tibbetts’s alleged murderer, Cristhian Rivera, as a scapegoat to bemoan the crisis of illegal immigration. Conversation swiftly ensued about how Rivera lived in a trailer park that was a hotspot for Mexican workers, according to the Daily Mail, and how he worked with fellow immigrants on a dairy farm. As if it matters whether a murderer is a naturalized citizen or not — murder is still murder.

    By focusing on her alleged murderer’s migratory status, we shift attention away from the actual crime committed; we are not addressing the root cause of the problem. Rivera was stalking Tibbetts, and when she told him off, he went into a “blind rage,” throwing a terrifying version of a temper tantrum. This is a frightening reminder of the violence against women that occurs not only in rural Iowa, but around the globe.

    Why isn’t the conversation about why women like Tibbetts are murdered for saying ‘no’? Tibbetts was doing everything women are taught to do. She was running at a time of night when it was still light out. She supposedly handled the situation the way every girl is taught to and told Rivera off and threatened to call the police.

    We can’t blame Tibbetts for wearing too short of a skirt or drinking a little too much like we blame most young women who are harassed, raped or killed. If we can’t blame Tibbetts and we can’t focus on the crime committed, the media goes the next best thing: immigration.

    Men need to be taught proper ways to handle rejection and develop fundamental respect for women. Additionally, men, like women, should be taught that violence is never a solution. Perhaps if this was an established fact, Tibbetts would be posting her back-to-school pictures like the rest of us. But even then, I don’t know if blaming men is any better than blaming immigrants.

    I know plethora of men who respect women and advocate for their rights. Not all men are murderers or promote violence against women. But how do we find the ones that need help learning basic respect? How do we prevent things like this happening again? I don’t know.

    Either way, the conversation absolutely should not be on immigration. It’s negatively affecting immigrants. The Daily Mail noted that Latino festivals were cancelled out of respect for Tibbetts, but also due to “anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

    “Latino immigrants living in the vicinity of where Tibbetts was killed fear for their lives,” Ardry Torres, a writer at the Daily Mail, said.

    Immigrants are not the problem here. Even illegal immigrants, even if they are coming into the country without going through the right pathways that legal immigrants will spend years waiting for, are not the problem when it comes to Tibbetts’ death.

    Mollie’s father, Rob Tibbetts, wrote in an editorial piece in the Des Moines Register about how their family opposes how politicians have made the conversation about immigration.

    “They (politicians) have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed,” Rob Tibbets.  “I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome. But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”

    Not only is this focus on immigration against the family’s wishes, but it also implies that if Rivera had not been in the country in the first place, the murder would have never occurred. This is a ridiculous argument. If it wasn’t Rivera, it could have been anyone.

    Chris Watts, 33, was recently charged with five counts of first-degree murder of his pregnant wife and two daughters, whom he strangled to death. This was a citizen of the United States, a father and a husband — a white man.

    Instead of making this tragedy political, I want for the Tibbetts family what any family deserves — to mourn with the privacy that they deserve.

    Mennecke can be reached at [email protected].