How would you feel if a member of your family was killed, and in the aftermath of their death, everyone from the White House to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, to even GOP talking heads used them as a talking point—an afterthought—in the ongoing debate about immigration in this country?
This is exactly what has happened to the family of Mollie Tibbetts—the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who went missing over a month ago. Her body was discovered Tuesday, and shortly thereafter a suspect was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. That suspect was identified as an undocumented immigrant, 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera.
Since his identification and the revelation about his immigration status, Rivera has been the subject of many conversations, relegating Tibbetts to secondary status in her own death. In Wednesday’s White House press briefing, Sarah Huckabee Sanders brought up Tibbetts but immediately took the opportunity to make it about immigration policy. Black GOP commentator Candace Owens mentioned Tibbetts in a tweet as a political talking point.
“Mollie Tibbetts was killed by an illegal immigrant,” Owens wrote. “There will be ZERO outrage from Democrats and the spineless celebrities who march to their orders because they need open borders for votes. How many more AMERICAN lives is the left willing to sacrifice for elections?”
Sam Lucas—a recent graduate of the University of Missouri who is distantly related to Tibbetts through great-grandparents—told the Washington Post that she was so outraged by the tweet from Owens, she was moved to respond to her.
“Hey 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 wrote in response to Owens. “Now stop being a fucking snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. Take her name out of your mouth.”
Lucas was not the only family member of Tibbetts to speak out against the politicization of her death. Billie Joe Calderwood, Tibbetts’s aunt, wrote a reminder to everyone on Facebook that “evil comes in every color.”
“Please remember, Evil comes in EVERY color,” Calderwood wrote. “Our family has been blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship and support throughout this entire ordeal by friends from all different nations and races. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Lucas told the Post that she saw Calderwood’s post before she wrote her tweet. She said she isn’t trying to serve as the spokesperson for the family by any means; she just wanted to voice her own frustration.
She followed up on her first tweet to Owens with one in which she said, “My whole family is hurting right now, and you’re not helping. You’re despicable, and this is so far from the loving and kind soul that Mollie was. My prayers go out to you in hopes that maybe you’ll become a better person. Not hedging my bets tho [sic].”
So far, it does not appear that Owens has responded to Lucas’s tweet.
For her part, Lucas told the Post that she has received some backlash for her tweet to Owens—but she says she would still speak out no matter who the backlash was coming from.
“I wanted to protect my family from this extra grief of politics,” she said. “Even if it was coming from the other side, on some other issue that connected somehow to my cousin, I’d say the same thing.”
Ultimately, Lucas told the Post that she doesn’t think her cousin should be part of any discussion related to immigration in the United States.
“People are saying, ‘If we had better border control, your cousin would never be dead,’ ” she said. “That may be true but also, a lot of young American women get killed by legal immigrants or people who were born here.”