Iowa authorities say the big break in their investigation into Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance came when they spotted her alleged killer’s black Chevy Malibu on surveillance video taken the day she disappeared.
Tibbetts, 20, was found dead Tuesday morning in a cornfield in Guernsey, Iowa, about 15 minutes by car from Brooklyn, Iowa, where she was last seen alive. Her body was covered with corn stalks.
At a press conference Tuesday, Rick Rahn of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said the surveillance video, which was given to police when they canvassed a neighborhood, showed Tibbetts jogging as well as a black Chevy Malibu belonging to 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who is now the suspect in her death.
“We were able to determine he was one of the last ones to see her running based on the video,” said Rahn, who said the video was “critical” to the investigation, though he did not specify when authorities viewed it.
Police allege Rivera confessed to circling around Tibbetts a few times with his car before he approached her and then started running alongside her. Rahn said that Rivera told authorities that at one point, Tibbetts told him to leave her alone, threatening to call the police.
Subsequently, Rivera allegedly chased Tibbetts down and at some point said he blacked out, Rahn said.
Rahn said after police interviewed Rivera, the suspect led authorities to Tibbetts’s remains.
Rahn would not say how Tibbetts was killed and would not comment on a possible motive, saying only that Rivera “seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day and chose to abduct her.”
Rahn said Rivera admitted to seeing Tibbetts before, but said that “beyond that, I won’t be able to say anymore about his interactions with Ms. Tibbetts.”
Rivera “kept to himself” and had lived in the area between four and seven years, Rahn said.
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Tibbetts was last seen on the evening of July 18, while out for her evening run around Brooklyn, though Rahn said it was not clear when she died.
Rivera was charged with first-degree murder and is being held in the Poweshiek County jail on a $1 million cash only bond, reports local station WHO-TV. It was not immediately clear if he has retained an attorney.
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Tibbetts, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, was living in the small rural town. On the last night she was seen, she was staying with her boyfriend, Dalton Jack, in his older brother’s house.
Tibbetts, according to police, was caring for the brothers’ dogs, as both were out of town.
An intense search for the psychology major ensued, involving hundreds of volunteers.
More than $400,000 in reward money was raised through efforts championed by Tibbetts’ parents, who did countless television interviews, speaking directly to their daughter’s captors, pleading desperately for her life.