Nation & World

Investigators: Suspect in Iowa student's death is in custody, subject to immigration detainer

An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime scene unit vehicle and two others following drive down 460th Avenue and turn onto Highway 21 in rural Guernsey on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime scene unit vehicle and two others following drive down 460th Avenue and turn onto Highway 21 in rural Guernsey on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

More than a month after Mollie Tibbetts went out for a jog and disappeared - and days after investigators searching for the missing Iowa college student said they were focusing their efforts on five locations - her body has been found, The Associated Press reported.

Iowa state investigators said Tuesday they have a suspect in custody who is subject to a federal immigration detainer, typically an indication that the person is present in the United States illegally.

“We’re not going to release anything more until the press conference,” said Mitch Mortvedt, the assistant director of Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation. He said officials would provide more details at a press conference scheduled for 4 p.m. central time.

Details were not immediately available from the authorities, though the Des Moines Register reported that a body was found in rural Poweshiek County.

For 34 days, federal, state and local authorities had scoured Poweshiek County for Tibbetts, and sifted through electronic data from her Fitbit, cellphone and social media accounts for any clue about what happened to the woman who was last seen alive while going for an evening run. They’d also interviewed nearly 1,500 people.

Authorities, who had narrowed their search to a carwash, Tibbetts’s boyfriend’s home, a truck stop and two farms, have not released information on when or how Tibbetts was found, a cause of death or said whether they have identified a suspect.

The University of Iowa student’s last known communication was a July 18 Snapchat message she sent to her boyfriend, Dalton Jack, for whom she was house sitting, according to the Register. Jack, who was out of town, looked at it but didn’t immediately reply.

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His “good morning” text the next day received no answer, and Tibbetts didn’t pick up her phone when someone at the day-care center where she worked called to ask why she didn’t show up. Every call went straight to voice mail.

Assistant Director of DCI Field Operations Mitchell Mortvedt told NBC affiliate WHO-DT that Tibbetts’s family members and her boyfriend have been cleared of suspicion.

Her family and dozens of volunteers in the small town of Brooklyn, Iowa, population nearly 1,500, have been combing ditches, cornfields and empty buildings for any sign of Tibbetts. CBS News affiliate KCCI reported that authorities have also searched pig farms in the area, and last week authorities announced they were narrowing the search.

“It’s frustrating. It’s powerless. We’re racking our brains, thinking what can we think of to tell the investigators,” Kim Calderwood, Tibbetts’s aunt, told the Des Moines Register. “It’s the worst thing - to want to fix something you can’t fix.”

Mollie’s brother, Jake Tibbetts, told the newspaper the family went “through stages of scared and sad. And now we’re anxious and confused.”

“Mollie has the biggest heart of anyone we ever knew,” he said. “She was never shy. . . . She had room in her heart for everyone.”

Tibbetts was born in San Francisco and moved to Brooklyn with her mother when she was in second grade. She won state speech competitions, was involved in theater and ran cross-country. She was studying psychology, as her mother did.

As people searched, those closest to Tibbetts asked everyone to hold on to hope - and keep sharing information about her.

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“We remain in awe and indebted to the help, creativity, outreach and love that you have shown Mollie and all of us,” Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, a cousin, wrote on the wall of the Finding Mollie Tibbetts Facebook page. “Please keep sharing Mollie’s information so we can bring our girl safely home.”

Greg Willey, of Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa, told the AP that $400,000 raised for information leading to Tibbetts’ safe return will instead go to the person who helps police catch anyone responsible for her death.

“Once they catch their breath, this will turn into a weapon going the other direction to catch the person who did it,” he said.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.