The bereaved friends and family of slain Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts would like political pundits, commenters and politicians to stop using her as a figure in his anti-immigrant messaging.
“Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color,” her aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, wrote on Facebook. “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.”
Samantha Lucas, who is Tibbetts’ second cousin, told HuffPost that while she was not close to her cousin, “I know enough about Mollie to know her political standings and that she would NOT want this to be used as fuel against undocumented immigrants.” Lucas emphasized that she was speaking only for herself and not as a representative for the family.
Kasie Schultz Taylor, a friend of the slain 20-year-old University of Iowa student, posted on Facebook that Tibbetts would not approve of being included in political conversations.
“Please do not compound the atrocity of what happened to her by adding racism and hate to the equation. Anyone that knew Mollie knows she wouldn’t want that. Respect each other, support each other but most importantly BE KIND!” Taylor said.
Another friend, Annie Zeimis, told Oxygen.com Tibbetts would “want us to focus on getting justice for her regardless of the murderer’s color, immigration status, etc.”
Twenty-four-year-old Cristhian Rivera, a Mexican national who has been in the U.S. for years without proper legal documentation, is the prime suspect in the investigation, the Department of Homeland Security said. But his attorney has denied that he is undocumented. Cristhian Rivera has been jailed in lieu of a $5 million bond.
At a Wednesday candlelight vigil held at the University of Iowa, Tibbetts’ older brother, Jake, urged the crowd to befriend someone in his sister’s honor. That same day, the White House posted a video on its official Twitter account, featuring several grieving family members of the victims of violence whose assailants happened to be undocumented immigrants.
“For 34 days, investigators searched for 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts,” the tweet reads. “Yesterday, an illegal alien, now charged with first-degree murder led police to the cornfield where her body was found. The Tibbetts family has been permanently separated. They are not alone.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed White House sentiments during a Wednesday press briefing.
“Sadly, the individual believed to be responsible for the murder is an illegal immigrant, making this an unfortunate reminder of why we need to strengthen our broken immigration laws,” Huckabee Sanders said.
A few hours later, President Donald Trump posted his own video to Twitter.
“A person came in from Mexico illegally and killed her,” Trump says in the video. “We need the wall, we need our immigration laws changed, we need our border laws changed. We need Republicans to do it because the Democrats aren’t going to do it.”
Authorities said Cristhian Rivera confessed to abducting Tibbetts on July 18, when she was jogging in Brooklyn, a rural town located about 70 miles northeast of Des Moines. Her death has since been ruled a homicide. She died as a result of “multiple sharp force injuries,” according to the Iowa State Medical Examiner.
After news broke Tuesday that Tibbetts’ body had been found in a Poweshiek County cornfield, Trump wasted no time turning her death into a political ploy, mentioning her demise during a campaign rally in Charleston, W.Va.
“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico,” he told supporters during the rally. “And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman.”
The White House reiterated Trump’s comments in a tweet.
Tibbetts’ death became a heated topic during “Cuomo Prime Time” on CNN Thursday night. When White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said, “God rest her soul,” host Chris Cuomo’s response was sharp.
“God rest her soul,” he quipped. “You’re not letting her soul rest. You’re waving her like a flag.” Cuomo then accused the Trump administration of “hijacking grief.”
Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera called out his own network for turning Tibbetts’ death it into an immigration story.
“We, at this network, are putting that spin on this story,” Geraldo Rivera told Fox News host Martha MacCallum, who said Cristhian Rivera should never have been in the country.
“This is a murder story. It’s not an immigration story,” Geraldo Rivera added. “I’m begging you to have compassion and not brand this entire population by the deeds of this one person.”
Still, Trump’s supporters have echoed his beliefs in sharing their own two cents.
“Mollie would be alive if our government had taken immigration enforcement seriously years ago,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on Twitter.
“The lack of leadership & courage by open border senators like @JeffFlake, @SenJohnMcCain, & #amnesty advocate Martha McSally contribute to these senseless deaths,” Kelli Ward, a former Arizona state senator who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat, tweeted. “We need true leadership in the Senate to #BuildTheWall & secure our borders!”
“We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community,” Iowa’s Republican governor Kim Reynolds wrote on Twitter.
The Tibbetts case remains a subject of heated debate Friday, spilling over from political pundits to a Facebook group created to share information about the case.
“We aren’t starting the morning so good,” administrator Kathy Lezovich posted Friday morning. “I already deleted 25 people who couldn’t follow our simple rules about not posting their political views or their personal hate. It should be clear by now that it won’t be tolerated here. [Cristhian] Rivera has the same rights everyone has in America. It’s what sets us apart. Let the legal system [do] its job like the family is doing. Show some class.”
As noted by Time magazine, multiple memes have been circulating on social media blaming immigration laws for Tibbetts’ death. One reads: “In November, remember all the murdered Americans, and the illegal aliens that the Democrats care about more than they want to protect you.”
Tibbetts has already become politicized ― seemingly against the families’ wishes ― with calls for stronger immigration policy. And it’s unlikely it will stop anytime soon, as noted this week by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“If Mollie Tibbetts is a household name by October, Democrats will be in deep trouble [come Election Day],” Gingrich said on Fox News this week.