BROOKLYN, Iowa -- 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 said Tuesday.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested and charged with first-
degree murder in the death of the 20-year-old Tibbetts, whose
July 18 disappearance set off a massive search involving state
and federal authorities.
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 held on $1 million
The news that the highly publicized and gruesome crime was
allegedly committed by a person in the country illegally drew
immediate outrage. President Donald Trump noted the arrest and
called for immigration law changes at a rally in West Virginia.
"You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very
sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible,
beautiful young woman," Trump told the crowd in Charleston.
"Should've never happened. Illegally in our country. We've had a
huge impact, but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are
such a disgrace, we're getting them changed, but we have to get
more Republicans. We have to get 'em."
Iowa's two GOP U.S. senators also described Tibbetts' death as a
tragedy "that could have been prevented," and Iowa Gov. Kim
Reynolds said residents were heartbroken and 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," Reynolds, a
Republican, said in a statement.
Trump has made further crackdown on illegal immigration 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
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, and Rahn described Rivera as someone
who lived in a rural area and kept to himself.
Yarrabee Farms, a family-owned company that operates dairy farms
in the rolling hills outside Brooklyn, said that Rivera had been
an employee in good standing for four years and that it was
shocked to learn he was implicated in the crime.
The company is owned by the family of Craig Lang, a prominent
Republican who previously served as president of the Iowa Farm
A search of court records revealed no prior criminal history for
Rivera in Iowa, and it's unclear whether he had ever been
subject to prior deportation proceedings.
Rivera's Facebook page described him as being from Guayabillo, a
community of less than 500 people in the state of Guerrero. It's
about a three-hour drive from the resort city of Acapulco.
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.
Rivera's initial court appearance is scheduled for 1 p.m.
Wednesday in Montezuma.
A conviction on first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence
of life in prison without parole in Iowa, which doesn't have the
On Tuesday night, deputies were guarding a trailer where the
suspect had lived on a gravel road outside Brooklyn near a dairy
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.
Rahn said he met with the parents and other relatives of
Tibbetts to inform them of the arrest Tuesday. He told them that
the investigation revealed that they had "raised a great
"We got to know Mollie," he said. "She was a phenomenal