On Tuesday a relative of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts appeared to publicly rebuke politicians — including President Donald Trump — who have used Tibbetts’ slaying as a talking point in ongoing debates about immigration in America.
“Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color,” Billie Jo Calderwood wrote on Facebook Tuesday night, only a few hours after authorities announced that the 20-year-old Tibbetts’ remains had been found about a month after she disappeared from Brooklyn, Iowa.
Calderwood, described in various media reports as Tibbetts’ aunt, was apparently referencing the fact that Trump and others, including the Iowa governor, have spoken out about Tibbetts’ suspected killer, 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera.
Authorities have described Rivera as an undocumented immigrant, which his attorney disputes.
It remains unclear when, exactly, Tibbetts was killed and how well she may have known her suspected murderer, if at all. Authorities allege Rivera abducted and murdered her after they crossed paths while she was out on her run.
At a rally on Tuesday, Trump invoked the case in starkly political terms.
“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman,” he said. “Should’ve never happened. … The laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed, but we have to get more Republicans.”
While state authorities said Rivera was an undocumented immigrant, his attorney, Allan Richards, argued in a court filing Wednesday that is not the case, the Des Moines Register reports.
According to the paper, Richards filed a motion seeking a gag order in the case in which he stated that Rivera “is in this jurisdiction legally.”
“Sad and Sorry Trump has weighed in on this matter … which will poison the entire possible pool of jury members,” Richards said in his motion.
He reiterated that complaint during Rivera’s initial court appearance later Wednesday where he urged the judge to “exclude the media from these proceedings.”
“Portraying Cristhian as something that he isn’t, I view this as a political payback for what’s swirling around,” Richards said. He also noted that Rivera, who has not yet entered a plea, has no prior criminal record and is presumed innocent.
Richards said Rivera first came to the United States as a minor.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, echoed Trump in her comments at a daily press briefing on Wednesday, calling Tibbetts’ death “an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our immigration laws.”
Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s governor, reportedly said much the same in her own statement: “We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can [to] bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”
In her post on Facebook Tuesday night, Calderwood wrote that “our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Tibbetts, a 20-year-old psychology student entering her second year at the University of Iowa, vanished on July 18. She had been set to attend a destination wedding for her boyfriend’s brother about two weeks later.
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.
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