‘A tragic end’ to Mollie Tibbetts case: How Iowa jogger’s killing was solved

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By EMILY SHAPIRO, ALEX PEREZ & ANDY FIES

Slain jogger Mollie Tibbetts and her alleged killer lived in the same rural Iowa town but it’s unclear whether they knew each other, investigators say.

Either way, “there was something that drew him to her,” Mitch Mortvedt of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation told ABC News Wednesday.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old rising sophomore at the University of Iowa, disappeared the evening of July 18 while jogging in the rural farming town of Brooklyn, a close-knit community of about 1,500 residents.

(MORE: Mollie Tibbetts case: Body found believed to be missing Iowa jogger; murder charge filed)

A first-degree murder charge was filed Tuesday against 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, Rick Rahn of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said. He is due to appear in court Wednesday.

A body recovered Tuesday morning in a farm field is believed to be Tibbetts, Rahn said, but the identity has not yet been confirmed.

Mollie Tibbetts, 20, went missing while out for a run in Brooklyn, Iowa, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
Mollie Tibbetts, 20, went missing while out for a run in Brooklyn, Iowa, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.

(MORE: Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts’ murder passed background check despite immigration status, employer says)

After Tibbetts vanished July 18, and her disappearance turned from days into weeks, federal and state investigators joined the search in the small town.

“Ultimately, what led us to Mr. Rivera was surveillance video from a residence here in the community of Brooklyn,” Mortvedt said.

The video was found late last week, Mortvedt said, and “investigators went through the video and it took hours and hours and hours, frame by frame … and eventually saw Mollie.”

The video showed Tibbetts’ jogging and Rivera’s car going by, officials said, and Rivera was tracked down by investigators Monday.

PHOTO: Cristhian Bahena Rivera is seen in this undated booking photo.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera is seen in this undated booking photo.

(MORE: Dad of missing Iowa jogger Mollie Tibbetts ‘reluctantly’ returns home to California as investigation continues)

In an interview, Rivera told authorities he saw Tibbetts running, got out of his car and ran alongside of her, Rahn said.

Rivera said Tibbetts grabbed her phone and said, “I’m gonna call the police,” according to an arrest affidavit.

PHOTO: Mollie Tibbetts is pictured in a photo posted to Facebook, July 20, 2018.
Mollie Tibbetts is pictured in a photo posted to Facebook, July 20, 2018.

(MORE: New website allows community to submit anonymous tips in missing Iowa jogger case)

Rivera told authorities he then panicked, got mad and “blocked” his “memory,” and didn’t remember anything after that until he reached an intersection, according to the affidavit.

Rivera said he then drove to a field entrance and into a cornfield driveway, before realizing he had Tibbetts in the trunk, the affidavit said.

Rivera said he went to get the young woman out of the trunk and saw blood on the side of her head, according to the affidavit.

PHOTO: A missing person billboard for University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.
A missing person billboard for University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.

(MORE: ‘She’s gonna be fighting her best to get back home’: Brothers speak out, FBI joins search for missing Iowa jogger)

Rivera then said he dragged the college student from his car to a secluded part of a cornfield and left her in corn leaves, face-up, the arrest affidavit stated.

Rivera led authorities to Tibbetts’ body, according to Rahn.

An autopsy will be performed Wednesday.

“A tragic end,” Mortvedt told ABC News. “All of us were hoping for a much better outcome for Mollie and her family.”

PHOTO: Friends and family of missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts react during a news conference, Aug. 21, 2018, in Montezuma, Iowa.
Friends and family of missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts react during a news conference, Aug. 21, 2018, in Montezuma, Iowa.more +

Rivera had worked at an area farm for four years.

While not denying authorities’ contention that Rivera is undocumented, Yarrabee Farms said in a statement he “was vetted through the government’s E-Verify system, and was an employee in good standing. On Monday, the authorities visited our farm and talked to our employees. We have cooperated fully with their investigation.”

“Yarrabee Farms follows all laws related to verifying employees are legal to work in the United States, and we regularly seek outside counsel to ensure we stay up-to-date on employment law matters,” the statement continued. “We keep records on all employees and have shared that information with authorities.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Mollie Tibbetts,” the farm added.

(MORE: The disappearance of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts: A timeline)

“It’s every parents worst nightmare,” family friend Linda Safir told ABC station KGO in San Francisco.

“So sad, so wrong,” Safir said. “She had so much to give.”

“Mollie was a sweet girl,” added Katie Murphy, principal at the Corpus Christi School where Tibbetts was a former student. “The best gift we can give is to be a little like Mollie today.”

ABC News’ Briana Montalvo and Matt Foster contributed to this report.

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