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Illegal immigrant arrested in murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts

Crime scene unit vehicles of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. (Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation - DCI/Facebook)
August 22, 2018

A month after her disappearance, the body of Mollie Tibbetts has been found – and her suspected killer arrested.

Cristhian Bathena Rivera, 24, was arrested Tuesday for the murder of Tibbetts shortly after her body was recovered, Fox News reported Tuesday. Authorities also identified him as an illegal immigrant from Mexico.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student from the University of Iowa, disappeared on the evening of July 18 when she left campus to take a job around her Brooklyn, Iowa neighborhood.

Tibbetts’ body was found Tuesday in a cornfield after Rivera led authorities to the location. Her father and two sources confirmed her identity to Fox News.

Rivera was charged with first-degree murder. He is accused of killing Tibbetts after he approached her while she jogged, and she threatened to call the police. He then dumped her body in a cornfield. Her cell phone and Fitbit device are said to be missing.

Investigators said Rivera was “very compliant” and “willing to talk” on Monday when they approached him. He admitted during an interview that he’d seen Tibbetts running, and approached her on the night of her disappearance, New York Daily News reported. When she threatened to call police and ran away, he reportedly chased her, then claiming he “blacked out.”

“He seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day and chose to abduct her,” said Rick Rahn, an investigator with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

Rivera lived and worked in the rural area of Poweshiek County, where he is believed to have lived for four to seven years. He is currently held on a federal immigration detainer.

Investigators had followed “hundreds” of leads over the past month, having received more than 4,000 tips. The investigation consisted of 30 to 40 investigators who interviewed hundreds of people and ultimately tracked Rivera down using surveillance footage. Video showed Tibbetts as she jogged in a rural area where Rivera’s car was also observed.

After her disappearance, Tibbett’s family hoped their daughter would be returned alive, and pleaded for her safe return. Her father, Rob Tibbetts, insisted that someone knew information regarding his daughter’s death.

“You can’t do anything there without someone seeing it,” he said of the small town where his daughter disappeared.

Vice President Mike Pence, who had visited privately with the Tibbett family, tweeted Tuesday: “We commend the swift action by local, state, & federal investigators working in Iowa in apprehending an illegal immigrant, who’s now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served. We will never forget Mollie Tibbetts.”

Investigators did not release any other details of Tibbetts’ death, and did not confirm or deny if there were signs of a struggle.

An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, but it may be weeks until the results are released.