BROOKLYN, Iowa (AP) — The killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts has prompted criticism of the U.S. immigration system because the man charged in her death is a Mexican farmworker. But the victim's father told mourners he's been embraced by the local Hispanic community.
Speaking Sunday afternoon to more than 1,000 people at a ceremony at his daughter's former high school, Rob Tibbetts didn't directly respond to comments by President Donald Trump and others who quickly seized upon the suspect's citizenship to argue for changes in immigration laws.
However, The Des Moines Register reports that Tibbetts said he encountered Hispanics at Mexican restaurants and elsewhere who were sensitive and kind during the weeks he spent in the central Iowa community of Brooklyn to help search for his daughter.
"The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, they're Iowans with better food."
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The body of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was found Aug. 21 in a cornfield outside Brooklyn, where she had been staying during her summer break from the University of Iowa. Authorities have said she was abducted while out running July 18, and an autopsy showed that she died from stab wounds.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, has been charged with first-degree murder in her death and is being held in lieu of a $5 million cash-only bond. He is suspected of being in the United States illegally.
If convicted of murder, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Within hours of Rivera's arrest, Trump, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the state's two U.S. senators said her death demonstrated the need to change immigration laws. Trump called for the election of more Republicans who would support such changes.
In his address at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School, Rob Tibbetts asked mourners to remember his daughter by "celebrating something wonderful," rather than focusing on how she died.
Tibbetts urged the audience to remember his daughter's passion for life and her desire to help others. To highlight his call to celebrate "wonderful" things, the father recognized a couple who had just married the day before during his eulogy.
"Today, we need to turn the page. We're at the end of a long ordeal," he said. "But we need to turn toward life — Mollie's life — because Mollie is nobody's victim. Mollie is my hero."
Davenport Bishop Thomas Zinkula led the funeral Mass in the city of 1,500 where Mollie Tibbetts grew up.