Mollie Tibbetts' father Rob spoke to a crowd of about 1,200 during her funeral on Sunday, urging the community to come together and celebrate life in honor of his daughter's positive spirit.
"Today, we need to turn the page. We're at the end of a long ordeal," he said, according to the Des Moines Register. "But we need to turn toward life — Mollie’s life — because Mollie’s nobody’s victim. Mollie’s my hero."
In his eulogy — held in the gymnasium of Mollie's Brooklyn, IA, high school, where she graduated in 2017 — Tibbetts also thanked Iowa's Latinx community for embracing him during the weeks-long search for Mollie, who disappeared on July 18.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, the man charged with Mollie's murder, had been living in the U.S. without authorization, according to officials. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have latched on to her murder as an excuse to campaign for tough immigration laws.
But Mollie's family is pushing back against this narrative. "The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans," Tibbetts said in his eulogy. "As far as I'm concerned, they're Iowans with better food," he said to applause. He recounted having eaten at several Mexican restaurants, where the employees were kind to him and gave him space when he needed it.
Other members of Mollie's family have also spoken up, rebuking those on the right for using the 20-year-old college student's death in its anti-immigration agenda.
"Especially for those of you who did not know her in life, you do not get to usurp Mollie and her legacy for your racist, false narrative now that she is no longer with us," Mollie's cousin Sandi Tibbetts Murphy wrote on Facebook. "We hereby reclaim our Mollie."
Instead of vilifying immigrants, our nation needs to address violence against women, wrote Murphy, citing statistics from the FBI that men commit the vast majority of murders and intimate-partner violence. She referenced Chris Watts, the white man in Colorado who was charged with three counts of first-degree murder for killing his wife and young daughters.
"You do not get to use her murder to inaccurately promote your 'permanently separated' hyperbole," she wrote, referring to the false analogy anti-immigration crusaders have drawn between Trump's family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border and Mollie's murder. "You do not have permission to callously use this tragedy to demonize an entire population for the acts of one man."
Mollie's cousin Samantha Lucas responded to conservative provocateur Candace Owens, who used the young woman's death as an opportunity to attack "leftists" who care about children being separated from their parents.
"I'm a member of Mollie’s family and we are not so fucking small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals," Lucas tweeted last week. "Now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousin's death as political propaganda. Take her name out of your mouth."