There are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases in the U.S. at any given time. Frankly, that is a staggering, worrying statistic. Whenever we hear about someone gone missing, a child, a woman, a senior citizen etc., we always hope that they’ll be found safe and sound.
It’s always tragic when a missing person resurfaces as a homicide victim. Take for instance the recent case of Mollie Tibbetts of Brooklyn, Iowa, who disappeared for a month only to be the victim of a brutal assault and murder. Yet the more we learn about her alleged assailant, the more we see that this tragedy could have happened to someone else, even before happening to Mollie.
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Keeping in Touch
Prior to her disappearance, Mollie Tibbetts was a psychology major at the University of Iowa, preparing for her sophomore year. Though her parents had divorced when she was in second grade, she remained in touch with her father. Despite the divorce, the family was close and Mollie even managed to attend her father’s wedding in 2017. It was the last time he’d see her alive.
On July 18, 2018, Mollie went for an evening jog. She was a former cross country runner and loved to keep in shape. She left her boyfriend’s brother’s place at around 7:30 pm, but never came back to the house. When she didn’t show up for work the next morning, her family alerted the police.
At the time of her disappearance, Mollie’s long-term boyfriend had been out of town for work in Duque, Iowa. It was more than 130 miles away and the two kept in touch using Snapchat. She messaged her boyfriend before leaving for the jog, but he hadn’t received it until later that evening.
Hundreds of Leads
In the following weeks, police in multiple states investigated Mollie’s disappearance. Hundreds of leads came in with information. These included unconfirmed sightings on roads and highways miles away, including at a truck stop in Kearney, Missouri. Most of these proved to be false and even the 500 interviews they conducted couldn’t drum up any solid leads.
A Brilliant Idea
Police then had a brilliant idea. Mollie always wore her Fitbit activity tracker when she went for a jog. If the police could use the device’s data, they might be able to see where she ran. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to pinpoint her location. They were able to narrow the search to several areas in and around Brooklyn. These included her boyfriend’s home, a truck stop, a car wash, and two farms.
Body in a Cornfield
It was on August 21, more than a month after Mollie had gone missing, that police announced the discovery of a body in Poweshiek County, Iowa. A medical examiner performed an autopsy and determined that it was indeed Mollie’s body.
A Helpful Suspect
The coroner also determined that Mollie’s cause of death was homicide by way of “multiple sharp force injuries.” As to who had actually committed the murder, police had a pretty good idea. They had been led to the location of the body by 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera.
Rivera lived and worked in the area and had become a target of the investigation after police had obtained footage from a nearby surveillance camera. The footage showed a Chevrolet Malibu driving back and forth in the area where Mollie had been jogging. It was easy enough to link the Malibu to its owner after that.
Once in custody, Rivera confessed to having kidnapped Mollie during her jog, killing her, and dumping her body within a secluded cornfield. He then led police to the aforementioned cornfield, where they found the 20-year-old’s body. Rivera also told police that he “blacked out” before the murder and didn’t remember even doing it.
Rivera’s recollection was spotty, to say the least, and prior to the blackout, he only remembered that he got angry. Mollie had apparently threatened to call the police on him and it drove him over the edge. He claimed it was only after seeing her bloodied body within his trunk that he knew what he’d done.
Complicating matters further was the fact that Rivera, who hails originally from Mexico, had been living illegally in the U.S. for more than seven years. Since he was 17, Rivera used a fake name along with someone else’s ID and Social Security number to work a number of jobs at farms in the area.
It appears that Mollie may not have been the first girl that Rivera followed. Recently, another Iowan has come forward with an account of Rivera tailing her and trying to flirt with her. It is only now, after learning what Rivera is accused of, that she realized the actual danger their seemingly innocuous interactions had posed.
Bailey Gibson has come forward to talk about how her younger sister was once stalked by Rivera in the same manner as Mollie. The younger sister had been walking alone through their rural town when the worrying event occurred.
Rivera was well-spoken but his subsequent advances had a creepy vibe about them that worried Gibson’s little sister. He told her she was pretty and asked her to get in the car. This apparently happened on more than one occasion. Rivera was much older and his “charm” was not appreciated by the shy 17-year-old girl.
“It was more flirty than sexual but my sister is very shy,” Gibson explained. “She didn’t appreciate it. Even though she knew him a little she felt unsafe and didn’t want to talk to him.” More worrying to the Gibson girls was Rivera’s outright persistence in the face of refusal. “She was really creeped out by his behavior. She had to keep telling him she wasn’t interested.”
Nothing of It
Ultimately, Rivera left Gibson’s sister alone and the girls got on with their lives. It wasn’t until they read about Mollie that they realized it could have been the younger sister who was killed instead of her. It appeared that Rivera had attempted to use similar pick-up methods prior to murdering Mollie.
Because she had come so close to being one of Rivera’s possible victims, Gibson had asked that her little sister not be named in the story. “It all clicked when we heard the news,” she explained. “It’s so scary to think he did something similar with my sister.” It has also come to light that Rivera might have actually known Mollie prior to approaching her during her jog as well.
Rivera’s girlfriend, Iris Monarrez is actually connected to Mollie through Facebook. She was friends with Mollie and Mollie’s brothers Scott and Jake. She also attended the same high school as Mollie. Since she had been dating Rivera it’s plausible that he may have seen Mollie before the night he murdered her.
Rivera, though reportedly “well spoken,” has said nothing other than answering yes or no to an interpreter when prompted. It appears as if he is doing his best not to incriminate himself further. If convicted, Rivera faces deportation and life in prison with no parole, plus he’d have to register as a sex offender.
The fact that Rivera is an illegal immigrant has become yet another political talking point in favor of the immigration policies of the Trump administration. Mollie’s family, however, has denounced the efforts to politicize their daughter’s death and prefer the focus be on Rivera’s criminal actions rather than his immigration status.