As family and friends of Mollie Tibbetts gathered en masse to celebrate her life in Brooklyn, Iowa, on Sunday, her father Rob Tibbetts declared that his slain daughter “is nobody’s victim.”
“Mollie’s my hero,” he said, according to local newspaper The Gazette.
Hundreds of mourners listened at the Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School gymnasium during a Mass of Resurrection to honor the 20-year-old college student, who vanished on July 18 after leaving her home to go for a jog.
“And, today it’s time to turn the page,” he reportedly said. “We’re at the end of a long ordeal, but now we need to turn toward life. We need to heal — this community needs to heal, our family needs to heal, but the problem with that is the person best equipped to help us through this is Mollie. So, let’s try to do what Mollie would do. Let’s say what Mollie would say. Let’s start with baby steps.”
Rob also thanked volunteers and defended the Latino community while saying he was “grateful” for them, according to ABC News. (President Donald Trump and various politicians and pundits have been criticized by some of Tibbetts’ relatives for using Tibbetts’ slaying as a talking point in ongoing debates about immigration in America.)
“You want to know the secret of why there was this outpouring of support for Mollie? It’s because we see ourselves in Mollie — it’s because we are a part of her,” said Rob, according to The Gazette.
Dozens of individuals congregated outside the gymnasium after it filled to capacity, where they watched the service over a live video feed, ABC News reports.
Tibbetts’ cousins and two brothers, Jake and Scott Tibbetts, reportedly served as pallbearers during the ceremony, and her former high school teacher JR Glenn and cousin Morgan Collum also gave eulogies.
“Mollie was not perfect,” her brother Jake said, according to The Gazette, pointing to the portrayal of her as the quintessential all-American girl. “She was the first to tell you about her imperfections, the first to admit it. She owned up to her mistakes and laughed out loud when Scott and I pointed them out and teased her.”
“When I think of the life of Mollie Tibbetts and her tragic death, I wonder why she is gone and I am still here,” said Father Corey Close, pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Brooklyn, according to The Gazette. “When I hear the many stories of who she was, of how she touched people’s lives, of her infectious joy and smile, I wonder by what rights I have to be living when she, who had so much promise and so much love to give, should have her life cut short.”
Father Close continued: “I see Mollie as a bright shining light, touching the lives of those who knew her.”
On Tuesday, Mollie’s body was found 500 yards into a cornfield about 10 to 12 miles south from where police think she was abducted, an investigator told PEOPLE. Christhian Rivera, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder in her death — which preliminary autopsy results show was caused by “multiple sharp force injuries.”
Rivera has not entered a plea to the charge, but his attorney has said he is presumed innocent, describing his client as a hard worker and “loving father” to his young daughter. At his initial court hearing Wednesday, Rivera’s bond was increased from $1 million to $5 million at the urging of prosecutors.
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Following confirmation of her death this week, Mollie’s family said in a brief statement that they were grief-stricken but grateful for the community’s support. They did not reference her accused killer.
“We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever,” they said.
The discovery of a body marked a grim end to the search for Mollie. It captured national attention as a reward fund for information leading to her safe return broke records in Iowa, with hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring in.
Her death was an answer to the question of her disappearance that loved ones hoped never to see.
“We know that Mollie knows how much we love her and how important she is to her entire family,” her cousin Emily Heaston previously told PEOPLE. “We want her to know that we will never stop looking for her.”
Three days after Mollie’s body was found, her brother Scott, a high-school senior, helped lead his Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School football team to victory over challenging team Lisbon, throwing two touchdowns and running another to solidify a 35-24 score during a game he nearly didn’t play due to his heartbreak, KCRG-9 reported.