prayer service in honor of Mollie Tibbetts at St. Patrick Church in Brooklyn
Zachary Boyden-Holmes, DesMoines

BROOKLYN, Iowa – As soon as Mary Jo Seaton got word, she knew her church had to come together and pray

“That’s how I grew up,” she said. “When something like this happens, you pray.”

Her priest informed her Tuesday that authorities had found a body they believed to be that of Mollie Tibbetts, who had been missing since July. Tibbetts was confirmed into the Catholic Church in 2015 and was public about the influence of faith in her life. By Wednesday evening, Seaton and others at St. Patrick Catholic Church had rallied together and organized a prayer vigil.

Mainly, people didn’t know what else to do, she said. 

For weeks, locals hung posters and banners in efforts to locate Tibbetts. They talked about a hopeful return of the 20-year-old University of Iowa student. Now, the young woman appears to have been found, but not returned.

“We think it’s important for people to come together,” Seaton said. “People want answers.”

More than 250 people packed into the sanctuary of the church Wednesday evening, as the setting sun cast a deep shadow over the shiny gold crosses and imposing stained glass windows that decorate the red brick building. 

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” a small choir sang from high up in the balcony to the overpowering tune of an organ. 

The Rev. Corey Close, pastor of the church, told the assembly he barely had words for the occasion.

“I’m sure many of us would give in a heartbeat our life for Mollie’s,” he said.

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He said we constantly see stories of tragedy in the news.

“But then we move on because it didn’t affect us. And we always think that it never will,” Close continued.

But evil is in this world, he said. And the people of Brooklyn have experienced it firsthand. 

“We can sit here and wonder what was the point of it, a person who had so much purpose,” he said. But “evil is irrational. So we can’t really wrap our minds around it fully.”

The pastor went on to call for a spirit of reconciliation. It may not come easily or quickly, he said, but the faithful must find a way to forgive. 

Authorities charged Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, an immigrant living in rural Poweshiek County, with first-degree murder Tuesday after he took investigators to the corn field where the body was found. 

“We need to pray for a spirit of forgiveness for the one who did this,” the priest said. “Faith teaches us that Christ came to forgive us. We’re all in need of forgiveness. We’re all sinners. None of us are exempt.”

‘At least there’s an end’

Few in Brooklyn seemed ready to think about forgiveness on Wednesday.

“I’m just really angry,” said Dan Brady, who has known Tibbetts for years. His son ran cross country with her in high school. He remembers buying her lunch at a meet not that long ago.

“She didn’t have any money,” he said with a smile. 

He was among several to wear a purple T-shirt in her honor. On the front, it had Tibbetts’ favorite Bible verse, Matthew 17:20. It’s the one that tells how faith as small as a mustard seed is strong enough to move a mountain. On the back of the shirt, it reads: “Keep the faith. Keep Mollie’s faith.”

Brady said the slaying of Tibbetts has made him doubt this small community. 

“I understand things happen,” he said. “But it ain’t supposed to happen in small-town, rural Iowa.”

People carried hope for weeks, he said. But many feared this outcome in the back of their minds.

“At least there’s an end,” he said. “You wish it wasn’t, but it is an end.”

‘Make sure you tell your people you love them’

Outside the church, a swarm of TV trucks and crews descended upon the heart of the town of about 1,500 people. National correspondents asked locals whether the tragedy had shaken their faith in their small community. 

It has, of course. 

But the discovery of the body on Tuesday did put an end to much of the search and speculation.

After the short prayer service, a few friends of Tibbetts met at the front of the sanctuary to tell stories – stories of how talented she was at singing and running, and funny stories of how bad she was at dancing and driving. 

Adults in the back hugged each other on the way out. Some held hands as they fought back tears. 

“Now, we can grieve,” said Charity Kenyon, who works with Tibbetts’ mother in Grinnell. “That’s not just for the family, but for the whole community.”

Kenyon said many were trying to respect the family’s privacy in their grief. But she said the whole community was deeply affected by the loss. 

“Make sure you tell your people you love them,” she said. 


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