Public Safety

Mollie Tibbetts search: Investigators launch website to seek more information on missing Iowa student

April Kane (right) helps as Sara Alexander cuts a banner of missing person signs at Live Now Photography and Design in Brooklyn on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. The shop in downtown Brooklyn has been busy printing missing person signs and T-shirts to spread the word about Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
April Kane (right) helps as Sara Alexander cuts a banner of missing person signs at Live Now Photography and Design in Brooklyn on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018. The shop in downtown Brooklyn has been busy printing missing person signs and T-shirts to spread the word about Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Authorities hope a newly launched website might lead to useful information to aid in the search for Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old Brooklyn, Iowa, woman who vanished from her hometown nearly four weeks ago.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of Field Operations for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations said the site, FindingMollie.Iowa.gov — which features images of Tibbetts, an interactive map of the Brooklyn area, and information for submitting tips — is designed to jog the public’s memory and encourage people to share information they might have overlooked from the night she disappeared.

“We hope that the visual aids ... will take you back to Wednesday, July 18,” Mortvedt said during the news conference. “We hope that the locations highlighted will jog your memories, and help you to recall important details about that day.”

Though DCI Special Agent in Charge Rick Rahn said investigators are still treating Tibbetts’ disappearance as a missing persons case, Monday’s news conference appeared to be the first time investigators acknowledged Tibbetts could have fallen victim to violence.

“We are considering all potential scenarios,” Mortvedt said. “It is possible that Mollie came into contact with someone who has caused her harm. This person may not necessarily be a member of our community, but likely has some familiarity with the area. … We are asking everyone to reflect back on the days prior to her disappearance in hopes of recalling details about any persons or vehicles in the area.”

Mortvedt said people who commit violent crimes will often exhibit behavior changes that might be spotted by those who know them. It is not unusual, he said, for people to see behavior changes in their loved ones but not connect that change to the possible commission of a crime.

Mortvedt noted some signs to look for include:

• Changes in a person’s normal routine, which might include missing work, school or other routine engagements without plausible explanation.

• A vehicle unexpectedly taken to a repair shop or sold or disposed of.

• Unexpected or intensive cleaning of a vehicle, possibly at an unusual time of day or night.

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• Unexplained lack of contact, or inability to get in touch with someone you knew, the evening of July 18 and into the morning of July 19.

• Altering physical appearance, including growth or removal of facial hair, or change in cut or hair color.

• Displays of anxiety, nervousness, stress or irritability.

• Unexplained injuries.

• Changes in the consumption of drugs, alcohol or cigarettes.

• Changes in sleep patterns.

• Notable interest in the investigation, including paying close attention to media coverage and being unwillingness to discuss the case.

“It is often in cases like this, that people may have information they do not initially share for a number of completely understandable reasons,” Mortvedt said, noting possible tipsters might not believe the information they have is important or they might assume someone else has already informed law enforcement.

“Please do not make your own judgment about its importance,” he said. “Please allow us to assess the information.”

Though he refused to share any information regarding the progress of their investigation, Rahn said investigators are continuing to chase down all reported information and leads.

“We are certainly using every technique that is available to try track down Mollie,” he said. “And we continue to use as many resources as available.”

At this point in the investigation, Rahn said investigators have “done a number of searches throughout the county and abroad, (and) those searches have included acreages, farms, homes, silos, barns, anywhere that a lead will take us, that’s where we’re going to search.”

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So far, Rahn said investigators have received more than 1,500 tips related to Tibbetts’ disappearance and have conducted more than 500 interviews. A reward fund, set up by Tibbetts’ family and Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa, has derived more than $360,000 in donations from 228 donors.

“We are not frustrated,” Rahn said. “We haven’t lost hope, and we will continue to strive to bring her back home safely.”

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

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