Brooklyn, Iowa entered the national spotlight after the death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. While out on a jog she was followed, approached by and allegedly killed by Cristhian Bahena Rivera—an undocumented immigrant. The community and Tibbets’ family were thrown into an intense national debate about immigration.
I’ve written about Mollie Tibbetts’ death before when Donald Trump Jr. wrote a scathing anti-immigration opinion editorial for the Des Moines Register. The next day Tibbetts’ father fired back with an editorial of his own—it denounced the use of his daughter’s death in hateful and politically charged agendas. I praised her father’s active and public rejection of the hate so many assumed would consume him.
Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, had been relatively absent from the media circus that fell upon Brooklyn, Iowa. But just recently she decided to reach out to the Washington Post, which published an article fully laying out the unique and difficult position following her daughter’s death. Those looking to gain a deeper insight into the tragedy and struggle faced by the Tibbetts family should read the article titled “Trump used her slain daughter to rail against illegal immigration. She chose a different path.”
The most fascinating and surprising detail to emerge from the lengthy article was that Calderwood has taken in Ulises Felix—the son of an immigrant family that has left Brooklyn, Iowa, fearing they might not be safe.
The twist is that Felix had actually known Bahena Rivera. The two had several connections—including a shared workplace and even family. Bahena Rivera even had a relationship with Felix’s cousin that bore his daughter. Nevertheless, Calderwood has taken up the mantle to raise another teenage boy alongside her other son.
It’s remarkable that another one of Tibbetts’ family members has spoken up against the tidal wave of hatred that has come down on immigrants. The threat of violence against immigrants is apparent in the Washington Post article. White supremacy groups even went so far to send threatening robo-calls to the people of Brooklyn, Iowa.
The phone call marks a concerning shift in American rhetoric towards immigrants. If merely shedding light on the hardships and difficulties faced by most immigrants spurs one into a fury, their beliefs are hateful. They are drawing connections between a few genuinely awful people and an entire group that has largely made positive contributions to this diverse country.
Everyone who wants to use Tibbetts’ death to fuel their anti-immigrant beliefs must take the time to also hear what Calderwood has to say. Those same people claiming to honor Tibbetts’ tragic end have only caused more suffering for those who loved her most.
Last year (?? I’m trying to find the article and confirm when it printed) The Gateway published an article about an immigrant-focused photo series in the Criss Library gallery. The article was informative and hardly political. That did not stop one man from calling our office to let us know that we had done something wrong. He was certain we were taking the side of undocumented immigrant Edwin Meija who had killed Sarah Root—a 21-year-old Bellevue University graduate student—while drunk driving in January 2016.
Root died in an Omaha hospital after spending several days on life support, according to the Washington Post. Meija was released on bond and failed to appear in court. He remains at large to this day, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.
Calderwood has proven that rejecting hate and embracing the things that are important—such as helping a teenage boy in need—is an option for anyone.