Public Safety

Investigators turn to social media accounts and GPS data in Mollie Tibbetts' disappearance

It’s been a week since University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, 20, went missing from the Brooklyn, Iowa area, leaving her family, community and law enforcement baffled.

Authorities believe Tibbetts went missing sometime between the night of July 18 and the morning of July 19 and investigators continue to comb the fields and roads of Brooklyn trying to figure out why Tibbetts disappeared and where she could be.

“At this point we can’t rule anything out,” said Mitch Mortvedt, Assistant Director of Field Operations for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations. “And, from what we’ve learned about Mollie, this is highly, highly out of character for her, as far as would she walk away.”

Since joining the investigation over the weekend, Mortvedt said DCI and FBI investigators have focused on combing area that were significant to Tibbetts — places she frequented, routes she ran and areas the areas around her family’s home and that of her boyfriend.

“We know she was creature of habit, in that she did things at similar times from day to day and ran similar routes,” he said. “what we’ve been focused on is revisiting those places and those routes in the hopes of finding evidence — video surveillance from local businesses and residences or people who remember seeing her — so that we can try to reconstruct where she went that day and what she did.”

Additionally, Mortvedt said investigators have filed dozens of search warrants for Tibbetts’ social media accounts — including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat — and her cell devices, such as her phone and Fitbit, in the hopes they will offer some clues.

“We are now just starting to get information back from those warrants,” he said. “and there is a ton of information to go through and figure out what’s relevant an what’s not to this investigation.”

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Mortvedt said investigators will be looking at her posts and who she had contact with in the days leading up to her disappearance. Investigators also will turn to the GPS features on her devices in the hopes they can map out where she’s been and maybe find a clue as to where she could have gone.

“We’re going to look at anything and everything that is suspicious,” he said. “But that is going to take some time.”

Mortvedt said there also has been discussion of expanding the search beyond the borders of Brooklyn, but without a clear indication of which direction to look in, it can be difficult to map out search perimeters.

“We’re checking gas stations and convenience stores and any location with easy access to a highway or the interstate,” he said. “We’re asking questions and collecting surveillance footage and check it to see if Mollie was caught on camera or if there was someone in the area acting suspicious.”

And investigators are continuing to ask family friends and the community for information, revisiting again and again her family’s home, her boyfriend’s home and places where Tibbetts spent time.

“Her family and her boyfriend have been incredibly cooperative through this ordeal,” he said. “They have repeatedly made themselves and their homes available to us.”

Tibbetts was about to begin her sophomore year at the university and her mother, Laura Calderwod, said she was preparing to move into her first apartment. She and her boyfriend of nearly three years, Dalton Jack, were also planning a trip to the Caribbean for Jack’s brother’s wedding.

Calderwood said her daughter was excited to return to school and have her own place and looking forward to her trip with Jack. The past week, waiting for word of what happened to her daughter has been “excruciating,” she said.

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What is known about the hours leading up to her disappearance is that she was staying alone at her boyfriend’s house, where she was dog sitting, and left the residence to go for a run in the late afternoon or early evening. Later that night, her boyfriend said he received a Snapchat message from her — a selfie, which Jack said looked as if it was taken inside his place.

The next morning, Tibbetts was gone.

And as time ticks away, Mortvedt said concerns among investigators intensify.

“There is nothing that jumps out at us to tell us exactly what has happened, but every day — every hour — that goes by, it becomes a bigger and bigger concern that we haven’t been able to find her or make contact with her,” he said. “We are obviously treating this as very suspicious and handling everything in that manner — as far as collection of possible evidence — in case this does end up becoming a criminal matter.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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