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Priest At Tibbetts Family's Church Urges Mourners To Forgive Her Killer

The priest at a church once attended by a murdered Iowa woman is calling on his congregation to forgive her killer. Community members have called Mollie Tibbetts' death "gut-wrenching" and like "a hole in everybody's heart".

This week dozens of mourners gathered at St. Patrick Church in Brooklyn, Iowa to pray for Mollie Tibbetts. The 20 year old University of Iowa student was home for the summer when she disappeared while on an evening jog in July. State authorities released preliminary autopsy results Thursday, confirming the body found in a cornfield southeast of Brooklyn is Mollie Tibbetts', and that she died after being stabbed multiple times.

The day after investigators recovered Tibbetts' body, mourners at her family's church prayed and sang together.

"My God, oh my God, why have you abandoned me?" the congregation sang.

Fr. Corey Close led parishioners in readings from the Bible, in songs and in prayers. And he urged the congregation to "take their burden to God", and to forgive Tibbetts' killer.

“Obviously what’s happened is horrible. And the man who did it is…it’s horrible that it happened. But we also need to find the grace, to ask God for the grace, to forgive him,” Close said after the service. “I just know how much I need forgiveness on a daily basis. So I just hope that if I made a big mistake that people would pray for me and forgive me too.”

Close said that process may take years, or a lifetime. But he said he's hopeful.

Brooklyn resident Glynis Worthington came to the service and stayed to speak with Fr. Corey afterwards. Worthington said her daughter and Mollie were "the best of friends in junior high." She's been struggling with the news of the death.

"When I sat down before the service began, I whispered to the woman next to me, 'if Father asks me to forgive, I'm walking out. I'll leave'," Worthington said.

"It will take some time...Absolutely, yeah it's possible. But it won't be easy." - Glynis Worthington, worshiper at St. Patrick Church

When other worshipers sat next to her, blocking her exit, Worthington said she took it as a message she needed to stay. So she did. And she listened.

She said the "strength" of the Brooklyn community is what brought her family to the town of just over 1,400 people.

"I believe their faith will be stronger from the experience. Their hearts will be broken. But their faith will grow. And that will make a difference," Worthington said.

After listening to her priest, Worthington said she will try to forgive Tibbetts' murderer.

"It will take some time," Worthington said. "Absolutely, yeah it's possible. But it won't be easy."

Twenty-four-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera faces a first degree murder charge in Tibbetts' killing. State investigators say he led them to her body. They believe he followed her while she was running, killed her and hid her body in a field southeast of her hometown. Rivera is being held on a $5 million cash-only bond.

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Rivera's attorney Allan Richards said his client has the right of the "presumption of innocence."

"This process is about truth-seeking and that will come out in the process," Richards said. "I'll continue to work vigorously on the behalf of my client."

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter