POWESHIEK, Iowa (CBS SF) — A suspect has been arrested and charged with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old student in Iowa with ties to the Bay Area who went missing while jogging last month.
Christian Behena Rivera, 24, was first contacted by authorities on Monday after investigators used video evidence to identify his black Chevrolet Malibu, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Rick Rahn said at a news conference Tuesday.
Rivera led investigators to a cornfield in rural Poweshiek County early Tuesday morning, where a body believed to be Tibbetts was recovered. An autopsy is scheduled for Wednesday, Rahn said.
Rivera has been charged with first-degree murder. He was determined to be an undocumented immigrant from Mexico by Homeland Security
Investigations determined Rivera had been in the U.S. for four to seven years, according to Rahn. He remains in custody on $1 million bail.
Tibbetts had last been seen jogging in Brooklyn, Iowa–a city of about 1,500 people 70 miles east of Des Moines–on the evening of July 18.
Her disappearance was widely reported. As many as 40 investigators were assigned to the case and a large reward was offered for information leading to her recovery. Investigators received more than 4,000 tips.
But the break in the case came from canvassing the area in Brooklyn where Tibbetts had last been seen. A resident with surveillance cameras turned over footage to investigators, who were able to use it to spot Tibbetts as well as a dark Malibu driving back and forth in the area, Rahn said.
The car was determined to be connected to Rivera. Investigators found Rivera and questioned him, and he told them he had encountered a woman running and tried to talk to her.
He parked his car, got out and started running alongside of her and behind her. Eventually she pulled out her phone and told him, “I’m gonna call the police,” according to a criminal affidavit signed by Poweshiek County sheriff’s Deputy Steve Kivi.
After that, Rivera said his memory was “blocked,” which he told investigators happens after he gets angry or upset.
According to the affidavit, Rivera recalled regaining consciousness while driving. He made a U-turn and then drove back to an entrance to a field and into a cornfield. There was a headphone earpiece in his lap and Rivera remembered he had put the woman in his trunk, Kivi wrote.
Rivera opened the trunk and saw blood on Tibbetts’ head, according to Kivi. Rivera then dragged her out of the car to a secluded area of the cornfield, covered her in leaves and left her, Kivi wrote.
After he was interviewed, investigators said that Rivera guided them to the cornfield, where they discovered a body presumed to be Tibbetts.
Tibbetts was a student at the University of Iowa, but she spent part of her childhood in Oakland and attended Corpus Christi Catholic School in Piedmont, where a vigil was recently held by friends and former classmates. Her father still lives in the East Bay, working for an architecture firm in San Francisco.
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