In the days since Mollie Tibbetts's body was found covered with cornstalks in an Iowa field, her family has chosen to mourn mostly in private.
But on Saturday, nearly a week after burying the University of Iowa student, her family broke its silence to deliver a message to every politician who has used her death as an election-year talking point to attack illegal immigration:
"I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome,” her father, Rob Tibbetts, wrote in an opinion column in the Des Moines Register. “But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”
Rob Tibbetts said his family still needs time to mourn, and he asked for continued privacy. But he said he felt compelled to speak because politicians were using his daughter's name to promote views that she would be opposed to, actions he called “heartless,” “despicable” and “shameless.” The piece expanded on some of the comments he made at his daughter's funeral defending the Hispanic community.
"My stepdaughter, whom Mollie loved so dearly, is Latina. Her sons — Mollie’s cherished nephews and my grandchildren — are Latino,” Rob Tibbetts wrote in the piece, which ran a day after a column by Donald Trump Jr. in the same publication. " . . . To knowingly foment discord among races is a disgrace to our flag."
Mollie Tibbetts disappeared in July after she left for a jog. The man accused of killing her is in the country illegally and had worked on a dairy farm in Brooklyn, Iowa. He told detectives that he chased after her but that he blacked out and doesn't remember the assault. His only memory was finding a piece of her earphones in his lap and her body in his trunk, police said in court documents.
He led authorities to a spot deep in the cornfield where he had hidden the 20-year-old's body.
News of the dramatic and tragic discovery spread as President Trump's former campaign chairman and personal attorney were convicted of crimes in federal court. But in Tibbetts's death, the president and some conservatives found ammunition to defend his statements on illegal immigration — and, some say, a distraction from damaging news.
“You saw what happened to that beautiful, incredible young woman. Should have never happened. Illegally in our country,” Trump said at a rally in West Virginia that night. “The immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting them changed.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders highlighted Tibbetts’s death at the beginning of her press briefing on Aug. 21, before facing an avalanche of questions about the convictions of Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen and ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“Sadly, the individual believed to be responsible for the murder is an illegal immigrant,” Sanders said, “making this an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our broken immigration laws.”
On Friday, a day before Rob Tibbetts's guest column was published, Donald Trump Jr. used Mollie Tibbetts's name to rail against Democrats in the Des Moines Register.
"The reaction from some Democrats and others on the left to the murder of Mollie Tibbetts is as despicable as it is revealing,” he began. “The mask is off and the true radical face of the Democrats has been exposed. They are seemingly more concerned with protecting their radical open-borders agenda than the lives of innocent Americans."
But Rob Tibbetts said his enduring memory of the nation's response to his daughter's disappearance and death is not one of division but of unity. The nation, he said, came together, pooling its knowledge, time and resources to help find his daughter.
"For most of the summer, the search for Mollie brought this nation together like no other pursuit,” he said. “There was a common national will that did transcend opinion, race, gender and geography. Let’s not lose sight of that miracle. Let’s not lose sight of Mollie."