Mollie Tibbetts’ Story, Safety Tips for Joggers

The murder of a young woman has the nation in an uproar. How is it possible that Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old University of Iowa sophomore’s simple decision to go for an evening run in the farming town of Brooklyn, would senselessly lead to her death? As the case unfolds, the details are overwhelming – leaving many of us sad and deeply angry.

Before we dive into it, it’s important to get one thing straight – Mollie Tibbetts didn’t make a wrong decision that fateful night of July 18. She did nothing wrong by choosing to go for a run. Rather, my goal is to talk through Mollie’s case and focus on helpful tips for teens, young adults and adults everywhere. According to police reports, Mollie was running alone in a rural area. She was isolated that evening. The suspect noticed Mollie, got out of his car and began running alongside her. Frightened for her life, she threatened to call the police. Eventually, Mollie was found dead in a corn field, Cristhian Rivera leading police to her body after his arrest. In a chilling statement by authorities, the investigator states:

I can’t really speak about the motive. I can just tell you that he followed her and seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day. For whatever reason he chose to abduct her.

A life so carefully loved and poured into by her parents and family, completely taken and cut short because a complete stranger, for no known reason, was randomly “drawn to her” that day…  Heartbreaking. So now we are left with a tragedy that must be used to help others. Here are a few points for what to do in the wake of this loss:  

Talk.

Talk about this case with anyone in your life who walks/jogs alone. Talk about what happened to Mollie and get feedback. Ask the questions, especially of your teens and college students – where do you like to go for a walk or run? What time of day do you tend to go? Do you always go around the same time; do you always take the same route? Do you feel so safe in your own neighborhood that any potential threat seems unwarranted?

One thing is for sure, this case is a reminder that bad people are sprinkled everywhere and while they are not the majority, it only takes crossing paths once to ruin or even end a life. While we don’t live in fear of this, we must simply be aware and make decisions accordingly.

Give Tips.

Phone: Always have a charged phone when you go out. And even though you have that phone, don’t be so distracted that you are not paying attention to your surroundings. This means no music, no calls, no texting, no Netflix. I know it seems extreme, but studies show that walking while using a cell phone directly contributes to pedestrian accidents from tripping to not noticing cars to making yourself a target for a predator who realizes you are not paying attention. According to Governing.com (link is external), pedestrian injuries due to cell phone use are up 35 percent in 2012 when compared to 2010.

Beyond cell phones, here are more precautions:  

  • Run with a friend or a group. There are many reasons we say this. One there is safety in numbers but also, if you fall and get severely injured, you want someone with you as opposed to being alone.
  • If you must run alone, run during peak hours and in populated areas
  • Let someone know when you are going for a run 
  • Don't be a predictable target / change your route and run times 
  • Don't post your exact run on social media or that you're going for a run before you leave the house 
  • Don't carry mace, it could be used against you 
  • Wear ID in case of any accidents
  • Wear reflective gear
  • Don't worry about being polite to someone who approaches you and makes you uncomfortable. This is true all the time. Trust your instincts. 

There are no words to express our sorrow over the loss of this wonderful young woman who still had her whole life ahead of her. Let’s make sure we take every step to ensure we’re protected the next time we go for a job or run. Certainly, these simple steps would never be ones you regret making.

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston