The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Mollie Tibbetts remembered for her compassion, love of life

Mollie Tibbetts was found dead after more than a month of searching. Contributed Photo
Mollie Tibbetts was found dead after more than a month of searching. Contributed Photo
Mollie Tibbetts was found dead after more than a month of searching. Contributed Photo

By Seth Taylor

Whenever Mollie Tibbetts sensed someone was uneasy, she was there to help.

When children would come to the Grinnell Regional Medical Center’s day camp the new environment would sometimes intimidate them, and Tibbetts always made an effort to make them feel at home.

“She was always one that noticed that and kind of pulled them in and helped them feel comfortable,” said Chad Nath, director of the day camp.

“Goofiness, silliness, and not taking herself so serious[ly] and realizing that it should be about having fun and enjoying what you do.” That was Tibbetts’ creed, according to Nath.

Mollie Tibbetts went missing in Brooklyn, Iowa, where she lived, after going for a run on the night of July 18. The subsequent search attracted national attention and support; the reward fund set up for Tibbetts’ safe return exceeded $380,000, and the Des Moines Register reported that Rob Tibbetts — Mollie Tibbetts’ father — received messages of support from as far as Indonesia.

But on Aug. 23, more than a month after her disappearance, Tibbetts’ body was discovered in rural Poweshiek County. Her death has been ruled a homicide, and Christhian Rivera has been charged with her murder.

This Sunday more than a thousand people packed the gymnasium at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcolm Jr.-Sr. High School, where Tibbetts graduated in 2017, for her funeral, where her family and friends told her story.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student at the University of Iowa, was originally from California, according to Nath. In high school, she ran cross-country, acted in school plays and was invited to perform at the Iowa All-State Speech competition three years in a row.

At the University of Iowa Tibbetts majored in psychology and planned to become a child psychologist specializing in mental health issues, something Nath believes she would have excelled at. Also at the University, Tibbetts participated in a Rape Victim Advocacy Program and the Dance Marathon, according to The Daily Iowan. The Dance Marathon raises money for youth cancer patients and their families, which goes to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. At her funeral, Tibbetts’ family asked that attendants make donations to the Children’s Hospital in lieu of flowers.

Jake Tibbetts, Mollie Tibbetts’ brother, rejected the portrayal of his sister as the perfect all-American girl, reported The Cedar Rapids Gazette. “Mollie was not perfect. She was the first to tell you about her imperfections.”

On social media, Tibbetts was open about her struggles with self-confidence and her own weight. She was supportive of others in their own struggles, too, quoting Brad Meltzer across social media: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” She was politically engaged as well, telling her Twitter followers to “Care as much about changing our country … as you did about the Snapchat update.”

For the past two summers Tibbetts worked in Grinnell at the summer day camp, where Nath got  to know her.

“She was very approachable. She worked well one-on-one with children,” said Nath. “She was just a fun-loving young lady. People with a positive attitude — people are drawn to them. So obviously the children enjoyed working with her, being around her, seeing her goofiness,” Nath said.

Tibbetts would often sing and dance completely impromptu — to the children’s delight — and sometimes the children would even join her. When Nath would tell stories Tibbetts would be one of the staff members acting out the parts.

When Tibbetts was missing, her father came to visit the day camp and he and Nath shared stories about the terrible jokes they used to tell and Tibbetts’ reaction to them. “She always used to say, ‘Oh, that’s another dad joke!’” Nath said. But to her father, Tibbetts would call them “Chad Jokes.”

“She had a sense of humor that would really draw people in,” Nath said, smiling.

“Mollie loved life,” her family wrote in her obituary. “Her passion for it radiated from those beautiful brown eyes and the smile that she was so quick to share with everyone she met.” That love of life is something that Nath believes Tibbetts would want everyone to continue carrying with them even now.

“She would want everybody to basically enjoy themselves right now. She wouldn’t want anyone to … be in sorrow. That’s not how she lived her life,” said Nath. “You live everyday as if it’s your last, and [Tibbetts’ death] affirms that,” Nath said.

In a statement to the public, the Tibbetts family asked for privacy and thanked everyone for their support.

“Thank you for the outpouring of love and support that has been shared in Mollie’s name,” they said. “We remain forever grateful.”

View Comments (1)
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Jean DonaldsonSep 1, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks. This article told me more about the person Mollie Tibbetts was than six weeks of news reporting. It managed to turn her tragedy into an inspiration.