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At Tibbetts' Funeral, Family And Friends Urge Mourners To 'Live Like Mollie'

Kate Payne / IPR
Hundreds of mourners filled the high school gym in the hometown of Mollie Tibbetts to honor her life at a funeral mass.

More than a thousand mourners crowded the BGM High School gymnasium in Brooklyn, Iowa Sunday to honor the life of Mollie Tibbetts. The 20-year-old University of Iowa student is being remembered as joyful, energetic and full of life. At an emotional funeral mass, family and friends urged mourners to live more energetically and passionately in her honor.

Hundreds of mourners squeezed knee-to-knee onto bleachers, in folding chairs lined across the gym floor, or stood against the wall. More than an hour before the service, cars began filling the parking lot, spilling over onto neighboring streets, as more than 1,200 people, in this community of just over 1,400, came to celebrate Tibbetts.

Some mourners carried with them whole, unopened boxes of tissues, anticipating the grief that would come. But as family and friends urged the crowd to “Live Like Mollie” and look for goodness in the world, joy followed, and even laughter.

Mollie’s father Robert Tibbetts told the mourners it’s time for the community to “turn the page”, to begin to heal, and to turn towards life. He called for a young couple in the bleachers to stand, urging the hundreds gathered to congratulate the couple, who had just been married the day before, because “that’s what Mollie would’ve done."

Next he recognized the BGM High School football team, which won its season opener the night before, led by Tibbetts’ son Scott, a quartback.

“Let’s hear it for the Bears!” Tibbetts cried. Scott Tibbetts threw two touchdowns and ran for a third during the game, just days after finding out his sister had been murdered.

Mollie Tibbetts was found dead last Tuesday – five weeks after disappearing while on an evening run. State investigators say 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera led them to her body, hidden in a cornfield southeast of her hometown. They believe he followed her on the road, abducted her and killed her.

Federal officials believe Rivera is in the U.S. illegally, and President Donald Trump and others are using the case as a rallying cry for stricter immigration enforcement.

But at the service, where many wore wristbands inscribed with the words “stronger together”, Tibbetts’ father told the mourners “Mollie is nobody’s victim."

Tibbetts went on to recognize the area’s Hispanic community for its compassion over the five week-long search effort.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans and we’re better for them,” he said.

Led by Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport and Fr. Corey Close of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Brooklyn, mourners prayed for all families impacted by crimes, and to thank the people of all races and nationalities who have shown support for the Tibbetts family.

The massive search for Mollie mobilized dozens of law enforcement officers who took thousands of tips, and hundreds of volunteers who papered businesses, schools, restaurants, truck stops, yards and cars with countless missing posters. In the weeks since, people across the country and around the world have seen the face and heard the story of Mollie Tibbetts. 

Family member Morgan Collum remembers Mollie as "a giggler, a runner, a reader, an actress and an advocate." She said Tibbetts' death is no reason to "give up on being kind." Instead, she told mourners to honor Tibbetts by sharing themselves and their gifts with others.

"I believe the Mollie movement has just begun," Collum said. 

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter