The Iowa college student who was abducted while running last month in a small Iowa town was killed by “multiple sharp force injuries,” investigators announced Thursday.
Preliminary autopsy results from the state medical examiner’s office also determined that 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was the victim of a homicide, the Division of Criminal Investigation announced in a press release.
The agency did not release additional details about the injuries Tibbetts suffered or what caused them, but said further examination of her body may result in additional findings. Autopsy reports are confidential under Iowa law, except for the cause and manner of death.
Investigators say the man charged with first-degree murder in Tibbetts’ death, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, led them to her body early Tuesday in a cornfield outside of Brooklyn, Iowa, the town where she was last seen last month.
While investigators were confident then that the body was that of Tibbetts, the autopsy definitively confirmed her identity.
Rivera is a native of Mexico who is in the U.S. illegally, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Prosecutors say he abducted Tibbetts while she was out for an evening run in Brooklyn on July 18, killed her and disposed of her body in the secluded location.
A criminal complaint alleges that Rivera confessed during a lengthy interrogation that began Monday to following Tibbetts in his car, getting out on foot and chasing after her. Rivera claimed he panicked after Tibbetts threatened to call police on her cellphone, he blacked out and he came to when he was unloading her bloody body from the trunk of a car, the complaint says.
Rivera worked for the last four years at a dairy farm a few miles from where Tibbetts was last seen. He and Tibbetts have no known connections, other than that Rivera allegedly told investigators that he saw her running previously.
Investigators zeroed in on him as the suspect after obtaining footage from surveillance cameras showing a vehicle connected to him circling the area of Tibbetts’ running route.
Earlier this week, investigators said they were uncertain how Tibbetts was killed or whether she was sexually assaulted. They’ve made no mention of recovering a weapon linked to the death.
Rivera made his initial court appearance Wednesday and is being jailed on a $5 million cash-only bond. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
Within hours of the arrest, President Donald Trump called for stricter immigration laws. In an interview that aired Thursday, he told “Fox & Friends” that Tibbetts was a “beautiful young girl” who was killed by “a horrible person that came in from Mexico, illegally here.”
The president also said the suspect was “found by” agents from ICE, an agency that some liberals have called for abolishing.
An ICE spokesman said Thursday that its agents worked with state and local investigators in “identifying, locating and interviewing the suspect.” Division of Criminal Investigation spokesman Mitch Mortvedt agreed that ICE played a “significant role” in the case, particularly in helping confirm Rivera’s identity and immigration status.
Rivera’s defense attorney, Allan Richards, has denounced Trump’s comments, saying the president is prejudging his client’s guilt.
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