For a few emotionally charged weeks, Iowans were unified in their concern for Mollie Tibbetts, her family and friends.
Much of the credit belongs to the Tibbetts family. Facing horrific uncertainty and an ultimately tragic outcome, their patience, kindness and resolve never seemed to waver. For them, it was all about Mollie, and so it was for us all.
Throughout the ordeal — since she was reported missing more than a month ago until we learned of her tragic death last week — Iowans focused on the young woman who liked to run, cared for friends and family, and brightened the lives of those around her.
However, as news of her death emerged last week, that focus quickly shifted. Within minutes of those devastating reports, a community’s moment of grief was snatched away by the politics of division.
A great deal already has been written about the immigration and employment status of the man believed to have taken Mollie’s life. In the coming weeks, more details will emerge. Some were blinded by this information and lost sight of the unified Iowa we all fostered the past several weeks.
Some politicians and commentators are blaming lax immigration enforcement for Mollie’s death, while their rivals are sowing discord in pointing out the political allegiances of the alleged killer’s employer and landlord. All are misguided. In reality, it’s unlikely any workable immigration policy or business regulation would have prevented one man of carrying out this senseless crime.
Few things could possibly worsen the horror of knowing a young Iowan has been killed and abandoned in a field. But at the top of the list would be any attempt to co-opt that death for political gain.
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We join our neighbors in Brooklyn, Iowa City and across the state in their grief. Mollie’s unrealized potential affects us all, and will change us all.
We also acknowledge the level of national attention drawn to Mollie’s disappearance stands in contrast to the lack of publicity surrounding other children, teens and young adults who have gone missing. All of these families need and deserve answers as well.
We can’t afford to compound the sadness surrounding Mollie’s death with loss of community unity and purpose. Hundreds more Iowa families shouldn’t be left to search or grieve alone.
Even in the shadow of evil, Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance brought out the best in Iowans, compassionate people joining together to hope for the safety of one of our own. Those long weeks proved we not only are able to rise above our political differences, but we must.
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