After daughter’s killing, an Iowa mother holds on to her humanity

We haven’t heard much about Mollie Tibbetts since she provided a weapon for some people in the immigration debate this year by being murdered and left in an Iowa cornfield.

The letters from people have stopped now, her mother, Laura Calderwood, tells the Washington Post this week.

The parents of a family friend fled their town after the arrest of the worker at a dairy farm. Their son is staying with Mollie’s family.

Laura tells columnist/reporter Terrence McCoy she feels the same anger as other parents whose children have been murdered.

But she has enough disgust reserved for the politicians who used her daughter’s death, proclaimed concern for the family, but couldn’t be bothered to call.

Mollie’s politics was that of her mother’s. She wasn’t afraid of the country’s changing demographic. That’s why her brother, Scott, asked if the family could take in his friend, Ulises Felix, when things got too hot for his parents. Ulises wanted to finish high school in the community.

Ulises parents had watched over Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, who’d arrived at the dairy farm alone from Mexico. He killed Laura’s daughter.

Not long after the news conference, the news trucks pulled up to the farm. Then came the racist telephone calls, some of which were routed to Ulises’s trailer, whose number was listed. Next the hate mail. And finally a robo-call went out from a white supremacist group using a Brooklyn number. ‘‘We don’t have to kill them all,’’ it said. ‘‘But we do have to deport them all.’’

Ulises begged his family to stay. Everything would calm down. The hate was coming from out-there America, not Brooklyn. Then someone said something racist to his mother at a gas station, and a Latina high school student reported hearing bigoted comments by classmates, and his mother said they had to move. It wasn’t safe here anymore. They began packing, telling Ulises they understood if he chose to stay.

‘‘I got home to a basically empty house except for my room. My parents are moving up to Illinois,’’ Ulises messaged to Scott one night soon after. ‘‘ . . . I don’t know what’s gonna happen.’’

‘‘Live here,’’ Scott quickly wrote back. ‘‘We got an extra room.’’

It’s a beautiful piece of writing from McCoy about what it is to maintain humanity during an assault by inhumanity.

  • We should strive to be a nation of Laura Calderwoods. I used one of my free WaPo articles for the month to read that (trivial I know but that’s the world today). Powerful stuff.

  • Excellent article about our shared humanity and what it means to cope with loss while trying to figure it all out. It was good of Mr. McCoy to give this story the perspective it deserves, long after it had disappeared from the news cycle.

  • AL287

    “Not long after the news conference, the news trucks pulled up to the
    farm. Then came the racist telephone calls, some of which were routed to
    Ulises’s trailer, whose number was listed. Next the hate mail. And
    finally a robo-call went out from a white supremacist group using a
    Brooklyn number. ‘‘We don’t have to kill them all,’’ it said. ‘‘But we
    do have to deport them all.’’

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that we have never gotten past segregation and treating some Americans like second class citizens. Our hatred and racism simply went underground until the circumstances were right for them to rear their ugly heads again.

    The “new” American Civil War is raging in the alternate reality known as social media and it is too late to close the Pandora’s box that released it.

    We can only hope that Laura Calderwood and like minded people will prevail and turn this country around.

  • Mike Worcester

    I cannot imagine how I’d react if my family suffered a trauma like that. Would I be filled with rage? Would I seek understanding? Would I work to find forgiveness in my heart? I’m just not sure. And that’s why when I read stories like this, I am all the more amazed at the resiliency of spirit shown by people such as Ms. Calderwood.