DES MOINES — Nearly 100 brown, black and white Iowans stood in solidarity Thursday at a prayer vigil to offer solace to the family of murder victim Mollie Tibbetts and urge unity in the face of a hate group’s robocall campaign degrading Hispanics and promoting a white nationalist message.
“We honor the memory of Mollie Tibbetts and all of the victims who have suffered because of violent crimes in the state of Iowa,” said the Rev. Lincon Guerra of the Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in West Des Moines. “We are meeting here today in an act of solidarity and moral support to her family and loved ones asking them to receive our deepest condolences and prayers,” he said in a message delivered in Spanish that was translated to English.
Guerra offered a prayer to honor the memory of Tibbetts and other victims of gender-based violence in Iowa, and called for a moment of silence to mourn and offer condolences to the grieving families.
“Our prayer is that God be with them,” he told the gathering near the Capitol in citing a biblical passage.
The 30-minute vigil, which ended with a guitarist singing “Amazing Grace” in Spanish and English, came against a backdrop of tension due to robocalls delivering a hateful message in the wake of Tibbetts’ death, said Joe Enriquez Henry, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 307 in Des Moines, which helped organize the vigil.
The recording, attributed to The Road To Power website linked to an Idaho-based white nationalist group, makes disparaging comments about people of Latino heritage, calls for mass deportation of illegal immigrants and suggests that if Tibbetts were alive she would support killing all Mexican immigrants.
Enriquez Henry said Thursday’s event was organized as a way for Iowans to come together to express remorse and sorrow as well as to raise awareness of “the need to protect members of the Latino community after hateful rhetoric was disseminated this week across the state through a robocall paid for by a white-supremacist group.”
“This is a ticking time bomb,” he said. “People need to speak up now. It all has to start now before it’s too late. Iowans are good people. This hate has been spread from outside of Iowa. As long as we can get the overall community to support us, we can stop the hate from occurring here.”
Tibbetts, 20, a University of Iowa student, was the subject of a mass search after her disappearance July 18 while jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Her body was recovered earlier this month from a nearby cornfield.
Authorities charged Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, with first-degree murder in her death but have not revealed a motive. They said Rivera confessed to the crime and led them to the body.
According to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Rivera is an undocumented immigrant — raising questions about how for years he was able to live in Brooklyn and work at a dairy farm. Yarrabee Farms officials indicated Rivera had presented what turned out to be false identification, though they had not used the federal E-Verify system as a cross-check to verify his status.
The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has not received any complaints about the robocalls, but the office is investigating the legality of the calls that appeared to use “spoofing” to change the caller’s identification and make it appear the message originated in Brooklyn, said office spokesman Lynn Hicks.
The Iowa Senate passed a bill last session to give the Iowa Attorney General’s Office a new tool to protect Iowans who are victims of “spoofing” scams where fraudsters use local phone numbers that are not theirs to trick Iowans into answering their phones. The calls can come from individuals or systems hoping to gain personal information.
Senate File 2243 would have created a criminal offense — with a fine of $40,000 per call — for violating a prohibition for the false or misleading use of caller identification information to contact any person who has an Iowa area code and is physically located in the state. However, the bill died in the Iowa House.
Currently, the federal Truth in Caller ID Act prohibits such misrepresentations, but officials say the illicit practice is widespread.
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