MONTEZUMA, Iowa (AP) — A man from Mexico living in the U.S.
illegally has confessed to kidnapping college student Mollie
Tibbetts while she was running in her small Iowa hometown,
killing her and dumping her body in a cornfield, authorities
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested and charged with first-
degree murder in the death of Tibbetts, whose July 18
disappearance set off a massive search involving state and
Rivera led investigators early Tuesday to a body believed to be
Tibbetts in a cornfield about 12 miles (19 kilometers) southeast
of Brooklyn, Iowa, where Tibbetts was last seen running,
Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Rick Rahn said.
"I can't speak about the motive. I can just tell you that it
seemed that he followed her, seemed to be drawn to her on that
particular day, for whatever reason he chose to abduct her,"
Rahn told reporters at a news conference outside the sheriff's
office in Montezuma, where Rivera was being jailed.
The news that the highly publicized and gruesome crime was
allegedly committed by a person in the country illegally drew
immediate outrage. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said:
"As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry."
"We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a
predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all
we can to bring justice to Mollie's killer," she said in a
The arrest is likely to spark calls for a further crackdown on
illegal immigration, which President Donald Trump has made a
core policy of his administration.
He often has claimed widespread crime by people living in the
country illegally, citing among other things the indictments of
11 suspected MS-13 gang members from El Salvador charged in
connection with the slayings of two Virginia teens. Trump also
has held events at the White House with members of "angel
families," whose relatives were killed by immigrants.
Although Trump claims legal U.S. residents are less likely to
commit crime, several studies from social scientists and the
libertarian think tank Cato Institute find that isn't accurate
and states with a higher share of people living in the country
illegally have lower violent crime rates.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that it lodged a
federal immigration detainer for Rivera after he was arrested on
the murder charge. That move means the agency has probable cause
to believe he is subject to deportation.
Investigators said they believed Rivera had lived in the area
from four to seven years. Rahn declined comment on his
employment history, but described Rivera as someone who lived in
a rural area and kept to himself. A search of Iowa court records
revealed no prior criminal history, and it's unclear whether he
had ever been subject to prior deportation proceedings.
Investigators said they zeroed in on Rivera after obtaining
footage from surveillance cameras in Brooklyn. The footage
showed a Chevy Malibu connected to Rivera that was driving back
and forth as Tibbetts was running in the area, Rahn said.
An affidavit attached to the criminal complaint against Rivera
alleged that he admitted to investigators he got out of his car
and started running alongside Tibbetts.
Tibbetts grabbed her phone and said she was going to call the
police. The affidavit says Rivera panicked and then said he
blacked out. Rivera next remembers seeing her earphones on his
lap, and taking her bloody body out of the trunk of his car, it
"The defendant further described during the interview that he
dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location
in a cornfield," the affidavit said.
Investigators said they had earlier searched the area for
Tibbetts but didn't find her, noting the body was covered by
corn stalks when recovered early Tuesday.
Rahn said that Rivera was cooperating with investigators and
speaking with the help of a translator. He said an autopsy would
be performed on the body Wednesday by the state medical
examiner's office, which would assist investigators in
understanding whether Tibbetts had been assaulted or tried to
fight him off.
A conviction on first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence
of life in prison without parole in Iowa, which doesn't have the
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."
At Brooklyn City Hall, city clerk Sheri Sharer said Tuesday was
a sad day for the town.
"It never crossed our mind that she wouldn't come home safe,"
The University of Iowa mourned the loss of Tibbetts, a
psychology major who would have started her junior year this
"We are deeply saddened that we've lost a member of the
University of Iowa community," said university official Melissa
Shivers, who urged students to seek counseling and other support
services as needed.