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Mollie Tibbetts' Family Mourns Loss As Others Lament Suspect's Immigration Status

The 20-year-old University of Iowa student's family issued a loving and mournful statement Wednesday, amid cacophony of social media outrage toward suspect Cristhian Rivera.

By Ethan Harfenist

The family of Mollie Tibbets, the University of Iowa Student who disappeared last month and whose body is thought to have been discovered on Tuesday, released a statement in honor of their deceased family member on Wednesday.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation shared the statement on its website on the family’s behalf, a day after Mollie’s body was reportedly found and the suspect in her murder, 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

“Our hearts are broken,” the statement reads. “On behalf of Mollie’s entire family, we thank all of those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our girl.  We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever.”

The family asked for privacy while they grieve their young relative’s untimely passing, but also thanked those that provided and offered support during the grueling month-long search for the missing 20-year-old.

“Again, thank you for the outpouring of love and support that has been shared in Mollie’s name.  We remain forever grateful,” the statement concludes.

Mollie’s alma mater also took to social media to air their condolences over Tibbetts’ death.

“We are deeply saddened that we’ve lost a member of the University of Iowa community. Our thoughts are with Mollie Tibbetts’ family, friends, and classmates,” Melissa Shivers, the Vice President for Student Life and Interim Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Iowa, said in a statement posted on the school’s official Twitter account. “Losing a fellow student and member of our Hawkeye family is difficult. President [Bruce] Harreld and I share in your grief and encourage you to reach out if you need support.”

But not all the social media messages were positive. On Tuesday, Tibbetts’ aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, wrote a heartfelt Facebook post that appeared to caution against prejudice and racism in the wake of her niece’s death, given Rivera’s alleged immigration status.

"Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color," she wrote on Facebook. Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you."

Twitter hashtags such as #Illegals and #IllegalAliens were awash with hate speech toward undocumented immigrants in the wake of the charge. Authorities initially said Rivera was an undocumented migrant from Mexico, who had been in Iowa illegally for as long as seven years potentially. He appeared in court on Wednesday, and is being held on $5 million cash bond.

However, a court document filed Wednesday says Rivera was working in the state legally at the time of his alleged crime.

People as powerful as the president and vice president even took the opportunity to highlight Rivera’s alleged status.

President Trump alluded to Rivera during a Tuesday evening rally in West Virginia.

“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly from Mexico, and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman,” Trump said. “It should’ve never happened. Illegally in our country.”

Even Vice President Mike Pence couldn’t resist taking a jab at undocumented migrants while issuing his condolences. He took to Twitter on Tuesday to mourn the “amazing young woman” that Mollie was and offer prayers for her friends and family. However, he also hailed the work of investigators for “apprehending an illegal immigrant, who’s now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served.”

During his court appearance in Poweshiek County, Iowa, Magistrate Judge Diane Crookham-Johnson on Wednesday set Rivera's first hearing for August 31.

[Photo: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation]