By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A senior high picture of Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old college student slain while jogging in her Iowa hometown three years ago, remains pinned to the bulletin board of Angie Gritsch, the former youth minister at Mollie’s parish. “I usually replace the senior pictures each year, but hers is a permanent one,” says Gritsch, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Brooklyn, Iowa.
Thoughts of Mollie have been on many people’s mind in Iowa and across the country as the man accused of taking her life, an undocumented farm worker named Christhian Bahena Rivera, stood trial in Davenport. A Scott County jury convicted 26-year-old Bahena Rivera of first-degree murder on May 28, following the two-week trial, moved to Davenport — 103 miles from Brooklyn.
Bahena Rivera will be sentenced July 15 at 9:30 a.m. in Poweshiek County District Court in Montezuma, Iowa, the county where Mollie lived and died. Her disappearance led to a month-long search that drew national attention and hundreds of volunteers. Prosecutors said Bahena Rivera, who arrived in this country 10 years ago illegally, followed Mollie in his car as she jogged, approached her because he found her attractive and stabbed her to death when she resisted him. He claimed two other men were responsible for her death.
Angie said she felt a sigh of relief, mingled with sadness as she watched the announcement of the verdict on her computer at her workplace in Grinnell. “There’s closure for the family and the community, but the fact is Mollie is still gone.” Angie said Mollie’s mother, Laura Calderwood, was among relatives who watched the trial from a conference room in the courthouse.
Not present was Judy Calderwood, Mollie’s grandmother, who was very close to her granddaughter. The two attended Mass together at St. Patrick Church. Judy died a year ago and never got over the death of her granddaughter, Angie said.
The first year after Mollie’s death, on her birthday in May, members of the parish youth group decorated utility poles and street signs in Brooklyn with teal ribbons, Mollie’s favorite color. They also decorated the railings outside the church with teal ribbons. The ribbon decorating became an annual tradition. This year, before the trial other members of the community decorated the town with teal ribbons.
Mollie, who wanted to become a child psychologist, was a nurturer who loved taking care of other people, Angie said. After the verdict, a foreign exchange student and friend of Mollie’s sent an electronic message to Angie. “Mollie is still taking care of us all. That’s Mollie. She always took care of everyone else before herself.”
Jodie Brady got to know Mollie well because her oldest son, Dillon, was a classmate of Mollie’s and participated in speech and cross-country with her. Jodie also taught religious education to Dillon and Mollie’s class, from second through fourth grade and then from eighth-12th grade.
“Mollie was always thinking about others. She always put others first. She liked to take care of people and to make sure everyone was included,” Jodie said. She watched the announcement of the verdict on a computer screen with several other coworkers at BGM High School, Mollie’s alma mater. “We gave each other high fives and then we just cried. Four of us had kids in Mollie’s class.”
Thoughts of Mollie come to mind daily for Jodie. “I try to remind myself to do something kind. “You’re having a bad day and you think, ‘What would Mollie do?’ I think of that smile. She had the best smile.”
Jodie said she will “always be thankful God blessed us with one of the most beautiful spirits he created, even if it was for a short time.”