POWESHIEK COUNTY, Iowa — Cristhian Bahena Rivera was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Monday for the murder of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in 2018.
A victim impact statement written by Mollie Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, was read by a representative in the courtroom before Bahena Rivera received his sentence.
Read Calderwood’s full statement below.
Mr. Rivera, I come here today not because I feel the need to address you. However, I come here to give a voice to our daughter, granddaughter, sister, girlfriend, niece, cousin and friend, Mollie Cecilia Tibbetts.
Mollie was a young woman who simply wanted to go for a quiet run on the evening of July 18th, and you chose to violently and sadistically end that life.
I want to address the chain of events you set off on the morning of August 18th after you led authorities to Mollie’s remains in a corn field.
Do you know what it’s like, Mr. Rivera, do be woken up by your youngest son, Scott, telling you the sheriff needs to talk to us?
Scott and I stood in the entrance of our home, where sheriffs Tom Kriegel and Matt Maschmann stood with tears in their eyes. It took them a minute to find the words to say, ‘We hoped for a different result. However, we found Mollie’s remains today.
I thanked them for their service and they left because there was still a lot of work to be done. I led Scott, whose eyes were burning with tears, to the living room and sat him down on the couch.
‘Scott,’ I said. ‘I am so sorry. I’m going to call Aunt Billie over to the house to be with you because Mom has a lot of work to do.”
Next, I needed to tell my son, Jake. Jake was at his apartment in Iowa City, and I did not want him to hear that his sister was not coming home on the news.
Knowing my sister, Kim, was headed to Iowa City for work. I called her and said, “Kim, they found Mollie’s remains this morning, and I need you to pick Jake up and bring him home.”
It was a race against the clock to notify all the people who cared so deeply for Mollie that she was not coming home. It was very important to notify the people who cared deeply about Mollie so they did not hear this on the news.
Imagine what it’s like to call Mollie’s father, Rob, who resides in Fresco, California, and say, “Rob, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but they found Mollie’s remains this morning, and I need you to come back to Iowa.”
Can you imagine, Mr. Rivera, as a father, having Paulina’s mother taken away from you and to have to tell your daughter that she will never come home?
However, the most difficult person to tell was Mollie’s grandmother and my mother, Judy Calderwood. Judy truly believed her granddaughter would be found alive because who could harm such a beautiful, vibrant young woman, so full of life and promise? Who could harm Judy’s precious granddaughter, let alone brutally murder her and dump her body in a corn field? This was heartbreaking news that needed to be delivered in person.
I entered my mother’s home and she greeted me with a big smile and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. There certainly was no easy way to tell her the news. However, it had to be done before her phone started to ring with loved ones sending their condolences.
I very quietly and softly said, “Mom, I have some bad news. They found Mollie’s body this morning, but we know where she is now. Judy Calderwood’s unwavering faith had been brutally shattered by your senseless act of violence.
Can you imagine, Mr. Rivera, sitting across the table from your madre and telling her Paulina is never coming home?
I am aware that you know Ulises Felix-Zandoval and his family. Uli, as I call him, was a classmate and a friend of my son, Scott. Do you know Uli was at the press conference where authorities announced that you, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, had been charged with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts? Uli immediately started crying but knew that he needed to call his madre before she heard it on the news. The Felix-Zandoval family was devastated. How could this young man they fed and fostered be responsible for such a heinous crime?
Do you know, Mr. Rivera, that Uli’s parents had to leave Brooklyn because they were receiving death threats? Do you know Uli lived in our home for his last year of high school so he could finish his senior year and play sports. However, Uli’s parents did not get to experience his senior year with him because of your senseless act.
Because of your act, your then-employer, Craig Lane, lost all his employees because those workers were afraid of what would happen to them. Because of your act, Dalton Jack will never get to give Mollie the engagement ring he had purchased for her. Because of your act, Mollie’s father, Rob, will never get to walk his only daughter down the aisle. Because of your act, Mr. Rivera, I will never get to see my daughter become a mother. I do hope one day Paulina has the opportunity to become a mother. But how will she ever explain to her children who their grandfather is?
This is the legacy you left behind for your only child, Mr. Rivera. I don’t know whose situation is worse.Laura Calderwood