A year after Mollie Tibbetts tragedy, a community changes

Residents of Brooklyn, Iowa, have become more vigilant

A blue ribbon waves in the wind Aug. 21, 2018, outside a store in Brooklyn with a poster for Mollie Tibbetts. Authoritie
A blue ribbon waves in the wind Aug. 21, 2018, outside a store in Brooklyn with a poster for Mollie Tibbetts. Authorities announced that day that after weeks of searching, her body had been found. (The Gazette)

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, University of Iowa rising sophomore Mollie Tibbetts, 20, went for a run in Brooklyn, Iowa, and never returned.

Her body was found 34 days later in a cornfield south of Guernsey. An undocumented immigrant who had lived and worked in the area for years, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 25, was charged with her murder and is set for trial in November.

Though a year has gone by, Poweshiek County Sheriff Tom Kriegel said remembrances of what happened to Tibbetts remain fresh for Brooklyn residents.

“I don’t think it is something that this community will ever completely recover from,” Kriegel said. “Brooklyn is a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone. And to have something like that happen here, it’s shocking.”

During the search for Tibbetts and in the months following the discovery of her body, Kriegel said he noticed significant changes in the community.

“People are more aware of safety issues, and typically walkers and runners are going out in pairs or groups,” he said.

Residents also have become more vigilant in monitoring neighborhood activity and alerting authorities to anything that seems wrong.


“I’d say people are more suspicious now,” he said. “They are more alert and a lot more cautious, and if they see anything that it unusual or off, they’re picking up the phone to let us know.”

Shortly after Tibbetts’ body was found, Kriegel said Brooklyn residents teamed up to form Brooklyn Neighborhood Watch. The group, which was founded Aug. 18, 2018, by Brooklyn resident Scott Hawkins and some friends, maintains an active presence in the town’s neighborhoods.

Hawkins told media outlets the friends decided to form the group because the small town does not have a constant police presence.

A town of about 1,400 people, Brooklyn does not have its own police department. Instead, it is one of many towns patrolled by the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office, which is based in Montezuma and employs about a dozen officers.

The county, which measures 586 square miles, is made up of 10 cities and 16 townships with a combined population of about 18,900.

Hawkins said the neighborhood watch group was created to fill the gaps in law enforcement coverage using the eyes and ears of local residents.

According to a post on the group’s Facebook page, “there is a selected group of volunteers … that have certain areas they are assigned to,” and they walk and drive through that area throughout the day and night, looking for suspicious people or activity.

“We want everyone to feel safe in our town and become even more of a model community for others to follow,” reads another post on the group’s Facebook page. “We have some amazing people here and we all want them to have a peace of mind.”


On the night of her disappearance, Tibbetts was house sitting at her boyfriend’s Brooklyn home before going for a run. She was reported missing July 19, 2018, when her family learned she had not shown up for work at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center day care.

Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, told The Gazette last year that it was not like her daughter, who loved working with the children at her job, to skip work or disappear without a word.

In the first few days of the investigation, hundreds volunteers searched fields around Calderwood’s house and those around the home of Dalton Jack, her boyfriend. Within days, state and federal authorities joined the search, deploying anywhere from 30 to 50 investigators, as well as analysts specializing in digital analysis and evidence collection.

Investigators ran down more than 4,000 leads, and led multiple searches of areas in and around Brooklyn using manpower, air, water and police dog units. FBI forensic experts examined Tibbetts’ digital footprint, which included sifting through data from her cellphone, social media accounts and Fitbit, a physical activity tracker.

Her body was found Aug. 21, 2018, after Bahena Rivera led investigators to a cornfield where he had concealed her remains, authorities said. It was home surveillance video that captured images of a dark Chevrolet Malibu circling the area at the same time Tibbetts was out running that pointed investigators to Bahena Rivera.

“We talk to each other a lot about what happened that month,” Kriegel said of himself and his officers. “We all wish it had ended differently.”

In the wake of Tibbetts’ death, Kriegel said he feels a fresh sense of urgency among his deputies to respond to calls with every tool they have — especially calls that involve children and missing people.

“We were all hurt and affected by Mollie’s death,” he said. “We wish we could have intervened and stopped it somehow. And I think it’s that memory that drives us to be even more proactive, to keep an even closer eye on our communities, and to react with more of a sense of urgency. We don’t take anything lightly. Instead we respond with every resource we have no matter what the situation.”


Tibbetts’ family — Calderwood, her father, Rob Tibbetts, and her brothers Jake and Scott Tibbetts — declined to be interviewed for this article. But in a voicemail left Tuesday, Rob Tibbetts said he hopes his daughter will be remembered for who she was, and not how she died.

At her funeral last year, he encouraged the crowd of about 2,000 to “live like Mollie did,” with compassion and kindness and a desire to help those around her.

“All I would hope is that we don’t dwell on the way Mollie’s life ended,” he said in his message this week, “but that we celebrate the way she lived, the inspirational person that she was to everyone that she touched.”

Tibbetts Timeline:


July 18 — Mollie Tibbetts goes for an evening run in Brooklyn, Iowa, and disappears.

July 19 — She does not show up for work. Her mother, Laura Calderwood, reports her missing.

July 20 — Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation joins the search for Tibbetts.

July 23 — FBI agents join the investigation.

Aug. 21 — Authorities find Tibbetts’ body in a cornfield and charge Cristhian Bahena Rivera with murder.

Aug. 22 — Bahena Rivera makes his initial appearance in Poweshiek County District Court. Vigils in honor of Tibbetts are held in Brooklyn and Iowa City.

Aug. 23 — Iowa State Medical Examiner releases cause of death as “sharp force trauma.”


Aug. 26 — Crowd estimated at 2,000 attends funeral for Tibbetts at Brooklyn Guernsey and Malcom High School.

Sept. 30 — Hundreds of runners turn out for inaugural run in Brooklyn to honor her.


March 27 — Judge grants Bahena Rivera a change of venue, moves trial to Woodbury County.

Nov. 12 — Bahena Rivera is scheduled to for a first-degree murder trial.

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