Public Safety

Mollie Tibbetts search: Authorities chase scores of leads

30 to 40 investigators working case of missing University of Iowa student

Mollie Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood (center), is embraced Tuesday by a group of friends and supporters at the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office in Montezuma where officials held a news conference to discuss their investigation into Tibbett’s disappearance. (Kat Russell/The Gazette)
Mollie Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood (center), is embraced Tuesday by a group of friends and supporters at the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office in Montezuma where officials held a news conference to discuss their investigation into Tibbett’s disappearance. (Kat Russell/The Gazette)
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BROOKLYN, Iowa — Authorities have chased more than 200 leads in the nearly two weeks since University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts vanished from a Brooklyn, Iowa, home and said Tuesday they will follow up on still more in their search to find her.

During a news conference at the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office in Montezuma, Kevin Winker, of the Iowa Department of Public Safety's Investigative Operations Division, said investigators continue to pursue all new leads they receive, but declined to give specifics on what the tips say.

“Investigators are looking at all possible sources of information provided by people and obtained from technology,” he said. “We have not identified the reason for Mollie’s disappearance and have not ruled out any possibilities at this point. … We are not giving up on any possible leads and we hope that we can find Mollie Tibbetts soon.”

Poweshiek County Sheriff Thomas Kriegel said “on any given day there are upward of 30 to 40 investigators” working the case.

“Thus far, in excess of 200 leads have been followed up on, (and) searches have included ground, air and the utilization of K-9s,” he said. “Since July 19, law enforcement and volunteers have searched tirelessly for Mollie, (and) investigators continue to work this case aggressively.”

About two dozen people gathered Tuesday at the Sheriff’s Office to hear what investigators had to say, including Tibbetts' friends, family and boyfriend, who wore shirts with "MISSING" printed in large red letters over a picture of her smiling face.

Tibbetts, 20, was reported missing July 19. In the past week, investigators have kept whatever information they've uncovered quiet, declining to comment on what they’ve learned.

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“What we … know is Mollie Tibbetts was seen jogging on the evening of July 18 while she was in Brooklyn and dog sitting for her boyfriend,” Winker said. “She was reported missing when she did not show up for work on July 19.”

Investigators, with the help of FBI forensic experts, were tracking Tibbetts' digital footprint that included sifting through data from her cellphone, social media accounts and Fitbit, a physical activity tracker.

She was last seen wearing dark colored running shorts, a pink sports top and running shoes of an unknown color, Kriegel said.

Her boyfriend, Dalton Jack, has said he received a Snapchat message from her about 10 p.m. the night she went missing, which included a selfie from Tibbetts that looked as if it had been taken indoors. He sent her several text messages the next day, none of which were answered, he said.

State investigators have said they are pursuing all leads and have conducted multiple searches. Last week, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said detectives had not identified any suspects in Tibbetts' disappearance.

Winker reiterated Tuesday that no suspects have been identified.

Asked if her disappearance is now considered an abduction, Winker said, “We do not know where Mollie’s at right now and I am not going to draw any conclusion about the circumstances of her disappearance, other than it is not consistent with her past.”

Winker stressed the importance of people coming forward and sharing what they know, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant the detail might be.

“Everything is important,” he said. “Every detail that we have related to this investigation is important. Our focus right now is to find Mollie. We need to find Mollie. So, anything … the public can do to assist in that would be very much appreciated.

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Brooklyn, a town of about 1,500, sits roughly 70 miles east of Des Moines. To those passing through, it would likely appear to be a quintessential small Midwestern town, with historic buildings lining the streets of downtown and people smiling and greeting each other warmly on the sidewalk or at the local deli.

A closer look, however, reveals Tibbett’s face is everywhere — smiling from missing posters hanging in the windows of every shop, affixed to the windows of passing vehicles and tacked to light poles.

In the days immediately after Tibbetts’ disappearance, Sheriff Kriegel said hundreds came out to aid in the search.

"That first search on July 20, at least 250 people showed up to help," he said. "We had firefighters and emergency personnel from all the stations within a 20-mile radius come out and ... those who couldn't search due to age or physical limitations volunteered to cook for us."

Kriegel said the volunteers were divided into 40 teams, and each was given a square mile of land to search, "checking farmland, ditches, streams and culverts."

In the past two weeks, Kriegel said his officers and dispatchers have fielded hundreds of calls, from those reporting tips to volunteers asking what they can do to help.

"Everybody wants to do what they can to help," he said. "And it's been heartwarming to see."

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

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