One terrible act took Mollie Tibbetts from this world.
But millions before it made the University of Iowa student who she was — beloved in her community, among her family and friends. And more since have exemplified all the good she exuded during her short 20 years.
“Don’t associate this with one bad thing,” her brother Jake Tibbetts told a crowd of hundreds Wednesday evening during a candlelight vigil on the UI campus, a day after authorities arrested a man they believe attacked and killed his sister while she jogged at dusk a month ago.
“This should be remembered by all the countless good acts that happened following it,” he said, thanking volunteers who posted fliers and strangers who reached out from across the country to express condolences. “The town of Brooklyn waking up at 5 a.m. to search cornfields, creeks and ditches.
“Remember this as the time a country came together for one girl. One girl who loved everyone. One girl who loved everything and wanted the best for everyone.”
With television cameras propped in front of a podium and students passing fire from white candle to white candle, UI Student Government and Dance Marathon leaders welcomed hundreds of students in the park outside the Iowa Memorial Union to remember Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared July 18 and was found dead this week — as well as others the UI community has lost.
Jake Tibbetts challenged the crowd to upend the evil intended in his sister’s death.
“Make a new friend” to honor his sister’s outgoing nature, he said.
The crowd took him up on that immediately. With hands cupped in protection of flickering candles, students in backpacks and workout clothes greeted mothers, faculty, freshmen and graduate school veterans, asking questions and listening to the answers.
“Exchange contact information,” he said. “Be in touch with these people you just met. And you can always attribute that friendship you just made to my sister. And that would mean the world to my sister — knowing that 1,000 people just met a new friend tonight in her name.”
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Mollie Tibbetts’ name became widely known over the past month in and outside Iowa as law enforcement scoured the state for her whereabouts. Many in Wednesday’s crowd, though, didn’t know her personally.
“But to be honest, what made her so special was she was like anyone standing here,” her brother said. “She loved to run. She loved Harry Potter. She loved the Hawks. She loved her family. She loved her friends. She was goofy. She was clumsy. She made mistakes. She owned up to them. She fought with her siblings — a lot.
“That’s what we’re going to miss the most — her just being her normal self and us being our normal selves around her,” he said. “We’ll never have that sense of normalcy again.”
One close friend who spoke, freshman Breck Goodman, said she was terrified coming from a small high school to the sprawling UI campus. But Mollie Tibbetts assured her she’d be welcome. She’d find community. She’d have fun.
“I was ecstatic to start here with Mollie,” she said. “So this last month having to think about not seeing her on campus was devastating. ... But from this day on, Mollie will always be with me. She will always be with us. It’s our duty and it’s our job to spread Mollie around and make sure she stays on this campus and in the state. To keep her spirit alive.”
Many of the UI students at Wednesday’s vigil said they plan to do that, but they also have been left with a heightened sense of insecurity and the need to, perhaps, walk in groups or arrange safe rides.
“It’s kind of going to make people look behind their shoulders, I think,” UI junior Emily Hinners said.
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