Man arrested, charged with murder in death of Mollie Tibbetts

News
Cristhian Bahena Rivera

A murder charge has been filed against a man who led investigators to remains believed to be the body of 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared from her small hometown in central Iowa one month ago. The body was discovered in a field in rural Poweshiek County, which includes Tibbetts’ hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a press release.

Officials say the suspect, 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, is a Mexican national who is in the country illegally. Investigators believe Rivera followed Tibbetts on July 18 and abducted her as she was out for a jog.

Surveillance video showed a car that investigators traced back to Rivera, said Rick Rahn, a special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. Rivera is being being held on a federal immigration detainer.

A cause of death remains unclear. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday.

Bail was set at $1,000,000 cash.

Rahn called the slaying a “tragic event” and said he couldn’t speak to a motive.

“It seemed that he followed her, seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day, and for whatever reason, he chose to abduct her,” Rahn said.

According to an affidavit filed in Powesheik County District Court, security video provided by a citizen showed Tibbetts running east of Brooklyn and a dark colored Malibu driving back and forth in the area several times. Investigators connected the Malibu to Rivera, and interviewed him Aug. 20.

Rahn called the video “extremely helpful” in locating Rivera.

In a “lengthy” interview, Rivera allegedly admitted following Tibbetts, telling investigators that he parked his car, got out and started running behind and alongside her.

Rivera said Tibbetts grabbed her phone and said “I’m gonna call the police,” , according to the affidavit. Rivera said he “panicked and got mad,” and then said he “blocked” his memory, “which is what he does when he gets very upset.” He said he couldn’t remember anything after that until he came to at an intersection.

Rivera said he made a U-turn and drove into the driveway of a cornfield, where he saw an earpiece from headphones in his lap, “and that is how he realized he put her in the trunk.”

Rivera told police he got Tibbetts from the trunk and noticed blood on the side of her head, the affidavit says. He described her clothing and said she was wearing headphones. He said he dragged her on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in the cornfield and then put her on his shoulder and took her about 20 meters into the field. He allegedly said he covered Tibbetts in corn leaves and left her face-up.

Rivera later led investigators to the remains, the affidavit says. Rahn said Tuesday that Rivera had been living illegally in the area for four to seven years. He faces a possible sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

— CBS News

EARLIER UPDATE

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, has been arrested and charged with first degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. 

EARLIER STORY

Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts has been found dead, just over a month after she was reported missing, according to CBS News. The 20-year-old was last seen July 18, jogging near her home in the central Iowa town of Brooklyn. 

Her family reported her missing the following day when she didn’t show up for work. Her disappearance set off a massive investigation and weeks of fruitless searches.

Police have scheduled a news conference for 4 p.m. CT Tuesday to provide an update on the latest developments. The body was discovered in rural Poweshiek County, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a news release. So far, no details have been released about what the cause of death might be.

Tibbetts’ father, Rob Tibbetts, told Fox News the body is his daughter.

Greg Willey, the vice president of Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa, confirmed to CBS News the body found Tuesday is believed to be Tibbetts.

Last week, authorities said they were focusing their investigation on five areas in and near Tibbetts’ hometown. Those areas reportedly included her boyfriend’s home in Brooklyn, a car wash, a truck stop, a farm more than three miles from downtown Brooklyn, and another farm more than six miles away.

In an interview earlier this month, Mollie Tibbetts’ father said he believed his daughter may have left willingly with someone she knew. 

“I think someone went to the house that Mollie knew or that Mollie trusted and that she left with them willingly,” Robert Tibbetts told CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz. “Now they’re in over their head and they don’t know what to do.”

He says if he could talk to his daughter, he would tell her to “hang on.”

“We’re gonna come get you,” he said. “Everybody’s looking.”

More than $380,000 was raised for a reward for Mollie’s safe return. Greg Willey of Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa tells the Associated Press the fund will now likely be used for any information that helps police catch any person responsible for her death.

Tibbetts would have started her junior year at the University of Iowa this week.

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