For more than a month, the public saw the image of a smiling Mollie Tibbetts on a flyer or on a digital post.
Two days before Tibbetts’ body was found in an Iowa cornfield, her friends and family shared heartfelt anecdotes about the spirited college student who had been missing for more than a month.
The 20-year-old University of Iowa sophomore’s loved ones wanted the world to know that she was a real person. “She’s not just a flyer,” her boyfriend Dalton Jack told the Des Moines Register newspaper in a lengthy profile story, which was published Sunday.
She was an avid reader, her father Rob Tibbetts told the newspaper. They shared a love for the Harry Potter series, but she had started reading the classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye, according to the publication.
The grieving parent talked about her love of writing and her passion for theater and speech. She competed at a state level in speech and wrote about “mature themes” that a judge described as her desire to make people understand their self-worth, the article stated.
“She just wanted to lift people up,” Jarrod Diehm, her high school speech coach, told the paper.
Her family never lost hope while Tibbetts was missing. They were convinced they would see her again.
“We like to joke that she will be grounded for life,” her older brother Jake Tibbett told the paper.
But the thoughts and hopes of hugging and teasing their sister and daughter again were taken away on Tuesday when officials discovered Tibbetts in a field about a 15-minute drive away from her home in Brooklyn.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera was charged with first-degree murder and is being held on a $5 million bond.
According to the affidavit, Rivera, 24, is the one who led investigators to Tibbetts’ dead body, where he had allegedly concealed it with plants. (Confirmation was pending but police are confident the remains belong to Tibbetts, a source previously told PEOPLE.)
WATCH: Missing Student Mollie Tibbetts’ Dead Body Found in Local Field More Than a Month After She Vanished: Source
Rivera “kept to himself” and had lived in the area between four and seven years, state authorities said Tuesday. He’d worked for four years on an area farm, according to the Des Moines Register, which reports that the company said he had been vetted before being hired.
On Wednesday, however, a manager at Yarrabee Farms said he was employed there under another name, using an out-of-state government ID and matching Social Security card, the Associated Press reports. While state authorities said Rivera was an undocumented immigrant, his attorney, Allan Richards, argued in a court filing Wednesday that is not the case, according to the Des Moines Register.
A motive in Tibbetts’ slaying has not been announced.
For now, the family grieves for the young woman who lit up their lives.
Following confirmation of her death this week, Tibbetts’ 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.