An 'Excruciating' Mystery After Beloved Student Vanishes — as Locals and Celebrities Seek Answers
Authorities say the last time anyone saw Tibbetts was Wednesday night, as she was out for a jog in the small town of Brooklyn, in eastern Iowa
In a matter of days, Mollie Tibbetts is supposed to accompany her boyfriend on an international trip to watch his older brother get married.
First, though, she has to be found.
The last time anyone saw the 20-year-old college student was Wednesday night, as she was jogging in the small town of Brooklyn, in eastern Iowa, authorities say. She’d been dog-sitting but headed out for some exercise. She reportedly sent her boyfriend a photo on Snapchat that night. Then she vanished.
Five days later — perhaps longer than any missing-persons case has lasted in the area, and four days since the disappearance was first reported by relatives — authorities do not know why or how Tibbetts went missing, or who may be responsible.
“Everything and everybody” is under review, the county sheriff, Thomas Kriegel, told PEOPLE.
Tibbetts’ family, meanwhile, must grapple with their new reality: a summer derailed in the shadow of this sudden mystery.
Laura Calderwood, Tibbetts’ mother, told ABC News that Tibbetts had planned to fly out for the upcoming wedding of her boyfriend’s brother, scheduled for early August in the Dominican Republic.
“As that date gets closer, it’s like closing in on me, because I’m thinking about these two people that are getting married that were also really close to Mollie,” Calderwood said. “[It’s] supposed to be the happiest day of their life.”
She said she did not have words “to describe how you feel when you don’t know where or how your child is.”
“We still haven’t found her and to be honest with you, we don’t know what happened to her,” Sheriff Thomas Kriegel said. “We don’t know if she was abducted or if she’s just gone off for a couple of days to relax with friends. We don’t know.”
Kriegel told PEOPLE that on Monday morning, law enforcement gathered to review the entire case, go over everything they have done until now and map out “the rest of the week.”
Family and friends remain committed to finding Tibbetts, wherever she may be. With few answers, many supporters have taken to social media, sharing word of her disappearance far and wide, seeking information from anyone who may have anything to share.
Believing she could be anywhere, efforts continue online to get celebrities with Iowa roots to post about Tibbetts. Among those who have helped amplify the case are actors Adam Devine and Brandon Routh, American Idol winner Maddie Poppe, football legend Kurt Warner and comedian Tom Arnold.
“All we can do is raise awareness,” Alyssa King, who has known Tibbetts for years, tells PEOPLE, “and we’re working as hard as we can to spread the word.”
Calderwood, Tibbetts’ mother, told ABC the disappearance has “completely upended the entire community.”
Hundreds came out to search for her on Friday, with helicopters circling overhead and kayakers sweeping the water, authorities said. Her name and story have been picked up across social media, and her missing-persons poster appears all over downtown Brooklyn, a rural town of some 1,500 residents. according to the Des Moines Register.
“A daughter to anybody in this community is a daughter to everybody,” one local told the newspaper. “We all hope the same effort would be made toward our own children.”
‘She Is Not a Quitter’
Tibbetts, reportedly a rising sophomore at the University of Iowa, has a personality to match the beaming smile she showed off in so many photos.
“She really does not have a single enemy — everybody loves Mollie,” says friend King, who described Tibbetts as always there when she was needed and “always trying to make people laugh.”
Breck Goodman, an incoming University of Iowa freshman, says Tibbetts helped her decide which school to attend this fall: “As always, she was very helpful, very kind and very nice about it.”
Goodman has been friends with Tibbetts for more than five years and considers her one of her closest confidants. “We talked about everything and anything and agreed on most subjects — everything from politics and social justice to typical teenage girl stuff like boys. … She is such a caring person,” Goodman says.
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Mollie Tibbetts (bottom) with her cousins
Tibbetts’ boyfriend, Dalton Jack, told ABC she “is kind, sweet, caring, she’ll do anything for everybody.”
Her mother told local TV that she is studying sociology at the University of Iowa, and her Facebook profile shows she has interned at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center. Aunt Kim Calderwood called her “beautiful” and “positive” — “a very responsible and conscientious young woman,” according to news station WOI and the Register.
She was on the debate and track teams in high school and was a presence at her church, the paper reports.
“She’s strong and sassy and a fighter and stubborn,” her aunt said, according to the Register, “and she is not a quitter.”
“We know that Mollie knows how much we love her and how important she is to her entire family,” cousin Emily Heaston told PEOPLE. “We want her to know that we will never stop looking for her.”
Goodman says the entire ordeal has been “heartbreaking for me.”
Speaking with ABC, Tibbetts’ mom, Laura, used another word: “excruciating.”
Tibbetts is described as 5-foot-3-inches tall, weighing about 120 lbs., with long brown hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information about her is urged to contact the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office at 641-623-5679.
• With reporting by ADAM CARLSON