The mother of slain Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts has taken into her home an undocumented Mexican teenager who had lived and worked with her daughter’s accused killer.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that not long after her 20-year-old daughter was found stabbed to death in a cornfield outside Brooklyn, Iowa, in August 2018, Laura Calderwood welcomed into her home 17-year-old Ulises Felix.
He is an undocumented immigrant whose family had worked on the Yarrabee Dairy Farm alongside Mollie’s suspected killer, 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera.
Rivera has been living in the US without a visa and working as a farmhand so he could send money to his parents in his native Mexico.
New house guest: Laura Calderwood, the mother of Mollie Tibbetts, who police say was killed by an illegal immigrant, has taken in 17-year-old Ulises Felix, who was the murder suspect’s co-worker and is also living in the US illegally
Tibbetts, 20, was killed in July 2018 while out for an evening jog in Brooklyn, Iowa
Following Rivera’s arrest on murder charges in August, Felix’s parents fled to Illinois to escape the outpouring of anti-immigrant vitriol, leaving their teenage son behind so he could finish high school.
Mollie’s younger brother, Scott, who attended the same school as Felix and was friends with the teen, immediately said he could stay in his mother’s spare bedroom.
After briefly grappling with the decision, Calderwood, 55, concluded that her late daughter, who in life was welcoming to all and supportive of the rights of immigrants, would have wanted her to help Felix.
Over the course of the last few months, Calderwood has learned that her young houseguest’s ties to Rivera were closer than first thought: Felix’s female cousin was the mother of the 24-year-old suspected killer’s young daughter.
Felix also revealed to Calderwood that both of Rivera’s parents were in Mexico, and that before the arrest, Felix’s mother had taken it upon herself to look after him and feed him every night, since he had almost no other family in Iowa.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera (left), 24, was arrested in August and charged with stabbing Tibbetts (right) to death and then dumping her body in a cornfield
Rivera was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in late August, a month after Tibbetts she went out for a solo run and never returned.
Right-wing Republican politicians, led by President Trump, quickly seized upon Tibbetts’ case to call for tougher immigration laws and increased border security.
At a rally that was staged shortly after Rivera’s arrest, Trump told his supporters that ‘the incredible, beautiful’ young woman’s death should never have happened.
‘You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman,’ Trump said, referring to Rivera and Tibbetts.
‘Should have never happened. Illegally in our country.’
It was Mollie’s younger brother, Scott (pictured left as a toddler), who offered Felix to stay at his mother’s home; the two teens attended the same school and are friends. Scott is pictured here with brother Jake and sister Mollie
Mollie’s family, including her father, Rob (pictured with his daughter), have been railing against right-wing politicians, led by Donald Trump, who have used Tibbetts’ murder to advance their anti-immigration agenda
Iowa’s Republican governor Kim Reynolds sounded a similar note, tweeting that a ‘broken immigration system allowed a predator to live in our community…’
Tibbett’s family were horrified by the thought that Mollie’s brutal death was being wielded as a cudgel to attack undocumented immigrants.
Tibbetts’ father, Rob, later published a scathing op-ed in the Des Moines Register, excoriating right-wing politicians and pundits for using his daughter as a ‘pawn’ to advance an anti-immigrant agenda that he said his daughter believed was ‘profoundly racist.’
And ultimately, it was Mollie Tibbett’s open and accepting nature that inspired her mother to open her home to another illegal immigrant, Felix.
In September, Rivera pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. His trial is set for April 16, 2019.
If convicted, the 24-year-old will be sentenced to life in prison.