When University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was found dead after not returning home from an evening run, her family wasn’t just forced to face the tragedy of losing a daughter — they also had to put up with right-wingers’ racist fear-mongering about her alleged killer, who early reports identified as an undocumented immigrant. For the past week, members of the 20-year-old’s extended family have vociferously decried the right’s xenophobia, and at her funeral this past weekend, they reclaimed their time to both mourn and celebrate Mollie as a “beacon of light.”
On Sunday, more than 1,200 people filed into the gym at Brooklyn-Guernsey-Malcom High School in Brooklyn, Iowa, to commemorate Mollie’s life, according to a reporter for the Chicago Tribune who was in attendance. Leading the service was her father, Rob Tibbetts, who declared, “Mollie is nobody’s victim. Mollie’s my hero … And, today it’s time to turn the page.”
“We’re at the end of a long ordeal, but now we need to turn toward life,” he conintued. “We need to heal — this community needs to heal, our family needs to heal, but the problem with that is the person best equipped to help us through this is Mollie. So, let’s try to do what Mollie would do. Let’s say what Mollie would say. Let’s start with baby steps.”
At one point during his address, to make it apparent that he denounces the anti-immigrant rhetoric that Donald Trump has spewed about Mollie’s death, Rob thanked the “Hispanic community” for helping search for his daughter.
“They have the same values as Iowans,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re Iowans with better food.”
Mollie’s brother Jake also spoke at his sister’s service; he envisioned her in heaven, “learning how to better communicate and touch people’s minds and hearts from Martin Luther King Jr.” and “talking about women and their strength and determination with Harriet Tubman,” according to a local paper.
“I can see her dancing with joy in her heart,” he said. “Mollie’s best life here would be spent helping others, helping everyone in this room … And now she’s in a place where she can watch over everyone in here and everyone in the country and help them reach their goals, solve their problems and make their lives better, because that’s what Mollie was all about.”
Mollie was studying psychology, the Tribune noted, and she took interest in everything from mental health to reproductive rights to body positivity. Fittingly, Mollie’s funeral focused on “goodness and compassion” — two messages that have been severely lacking in the national conversation around the young woman’s death.