Some relatives of Mollie Tibbetts are pushing back against politicians who are blaming the country’s immigration system for the Iowa college student’s death.
A body believed to be Tibbetts’ was found in Iowa on Tuesday, a month after she went missing during an evening jog. The man arrested in her death is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.
President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians have highlighted the case to argue for stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
But some of Tibbetts’ family members, including her aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, say they don’t want her death to be used for political leverage.
“I don’t want Mollie’s memory to get lost amongst politics,” Calderwood told CNN, emphasizing that she’s speaking only for herself.
She said her family received an outpouring of love from people of all races, religions and ethnicities during the search for her niece.
“It’s not about race, it’s about people joining together to do good,” said Calderwood, who posted a similar message on Facebook.
Tibbetts’ immediate family released a statement Tuesday focusing on their grief and gratitude.
“Our hearts are broken.
On behalf of Mollie’s entire family, we thank all of those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our girl. We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever.
At this time, our family asks that we be allowed the time to process our devastating loss and share our grief in private.
Again, thank you for the outpouring of love and support that has been shared in Mollie’s name. We remain forever grateful.”
At a vigil for Tibbetts in Iowa City on Wednesday, Mollie’s brother Jake asked those in the crowd to remember the good over the bad, and to appreciate how people across the state and country joined together in the aftermath of her disappearance.
“Remember this as a time that the country came together for one girl. One girl that loved everyone. One girl that loved everything and wanted the best for everyone. Don’t remember this as the time that someone made a very poor decision and took a girl away,” he said.
“We’re going to miss her dearly but, to be honest, what made her so special is she was just like anyone standing here. She loved to run. She loved Harry Potter. She loved the hawks. She loved her family. She was goofy. She was clumsy,” Jake Tibbetts said.
One of Tibbetts’ second cousins, Samantha Lucas, also told CNN she wants Tibbetts’ death removed from political discussion.
Lucas said she didn’t know her second cousin well, and isn’t speaking for the whole family. But she says knows enough about Tibbetts to believe “she would not want this to be used as fuel against undocumented immigrants.”
CNN contacted Lucas after she pushed back against people on social media who mentioned Tibbetts as they railed against illegal immigration.
At the vigil for Tibbetts Wednesday, a friend of the 20-year-old said she didn’t want the tragedy to be politicized.
“I also know what Mollie stood for … and she would not approve,” the friend, Breck Goodman, said. “So I don’t want her death to be used as propaganda. I don’t want her death to be used for more prejudice and for more discrimination, and I don’t think she would want that, either.”
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher, Eric Levenson and Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report.