The death of Mollie Tibbets, the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who vanished in July while out jogging, has become a lightning rod in the nation's immigration debate.
Tibbetts' suspected killer, 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, is an undocumented immigrant, law enforcement officials said Tuesday as they announced his arrest. Rivera's lawyer, Allan Richards, has claimed that Rivera is in the U.S. legally, citing the fact that his employer, Yarrabee Farms, initially issued a statement that Rivera had been vetted through the federal E-Verify system, which allows employers to confirm employees’ ability to work in the U.S. However, Yarrabee Farms has subsequently stated that they did not use E-Verify to confirm Rivera's status.
Not long after Rivera’s arrest on Tuesday, President Donald Trump called an “illegal alien” during a rally, comments that drew criticism from Rivera's attorney.
"Sad and sorry Trump has weighed in on this matter in national media which will poison the entire possible pool of jury members," Richards wrote in court paperwork on Wednesday, in which he asked the judge for a gag order - a request that was denied.
Some of Tibbetts’ relatives are saddened that her death has become political fodder.
Her aunt Billie Jo Calderwood told CNN, "I don't want Mollie's memory to get lost amongst politics."
On Facebook, she thanked people of all backgrounds for their support. She wrote, "Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color. 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."
Samantha Lucas, who says she is Tibbetts’ cousin tweeted, “Mollie’s death is not political propaganda to bring up your 'build the wall' bullshit. Stop.”
Lucas told CNN that while she doesn't speak for the whole family, she feels her cousin "would not want this to be used as fuel against undocumented immigrants."
Tibbetts’ family released a statement on Wednesday which thanked “all of those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our girl.”
It did not mention immigration.
Tibbetts' friend Annie Zeimis told Oxygen.com, "I think that she’d want us to focus on getting justice for her regardless of the murderer’s color, immigration status, etc."
She called Tibbetts "the most genuine person I’ve ever met in my life and I think I speak for many when I say that."
Many of Tibbetts’ family and friends are posting pictures on their social media pages with the hashtag #TheMollieMovement. A Facebook page dedicated to that movement urges people to print out or screenshot a kindness card as a means of encouraging random acts of kindness. At a candlelight vigil held on on the University of Iowa campus on Wednesday evening, her older brother Jake Tibbetts urged the crowd to make a friend in her sister’s honor.
Tibbetts' social media painted the portrait of a young woman who had more left-leaning beliefs. She was an outspoke feminist who often tweeted about gender equality and body positivity.
[Photo: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation]