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A reward encouraging the safe return of college student Mollie Tibbetts, who vanished 16 days ago, has grown to an astonishing $172,000 as her parents expressed belief Thursday that she remains alive.
During a news conference Thursday in Brooklyn, Iowa, Laura Calderwood said the fund was established to facilitate either paying for her daughter's release - if she has been abducted - or to encourage those who might have information to come forward.
'We believe that Mollie still is alive,” Calderwood said. 'And if someone has abducted her, we are pleading with you to please release her.”
The fund was set up at First State Bank in Brooklyn, Calderwood said, in collaboration with CrimeStoppers of Central Iowa, a nonprofit organization that allows people to call or email in crime-related tips or information anonymously.
'What we're trying to do is shake the tree,” said CrimeStoppers representative Greg Willey. 'We want people to come forward.”
Willey said tips that come into CrimeStoppers are scrubbed of any information that could identify the tipster, making it the perfect venue for those who may have information but are scared to come forward. Whatever tips are received are forwarded to law enforcement, he said.
'People are reluctant to come forward with information because they think it is irrelevant or it's trivial,” said Tibbetts' father, Rob Tibbetts. 'Nothing is irrelevant and nothing is trivial, and the authorities have told us as much.”
Rob Tibbetts said the many investigators on his daughter's case have been 'incredible partners” who have put together an aggressive and comprehensive investigation to find his daughter. The fund, he said, will serve as 'another tool in their arsenal” to help find her.
'This is going to be solved by someone coming forward with information ... that they think is trivial and not worth sharing, or information they think is going to implicate a loved one or friend and they are afraid of doing that,” he said. 'And I've been telling all of you, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, so come forward, share that information with the authorities and let's bring Mollie home.”
Mollie Tibbetts, 20, a University of Iowa student, was reported missing July 19 after her family realized she had not shown up for work.
She was housesitting in Brooklyn and last seen the night before her disappearance jogging through town in black shorts, a pink or red sports top and running shoes, authorities said.
Since her disappearance, investigators said they have run down more than 200 leads and searched numerous areas in or around Brooklyn. The use of data and digital records associated with her social media and electronic devices also has been a focus of the investigation.
Authorities are tight-lipped about what they think happened to Tibbetts but say they are 'not ruling anything out.”
There was a glimmer of hope earlier this week when someone reported seeing a woman who looked like Tibbetts at a truck stop in Kearney, Mo. Officers searched the area, spoke with witnesses and reviewed available video footage and ultimately determined the woman was not Tibbetts.
As they wait for answers, her loved ones say they are taking it day by day and doing 'everything we can to find Mollie and bring her home.”
'Mollie isn't all that different from your daughters or your sisters or your girlfriends,” her father said. 'She's just a wonderful, normal, terrific person, and we all can identify with that, so let's bring her home.”
'Every day I feel Mollie's presence with me.” Calderwood said. 'Mollie was an incredibly strong young woman, and I don't know that I have the strength in me, but Mollie's lending me her strength every day, every night. And yes, I have my moments of complete meltdowns, but … through this strength that is somehow … being bestowed on me that I am able to get through every morning, every noon and every night.”
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