DES MOINES, Iowa — The reward fund for missing college student Mollie Tibbetts has been raised to $300,000.
The fund will likely grow, according to a spokesperson for the Crime Stoppers of Central Iowa. The amount now is a record for the organization, which was founded in 1982.
More than 180 people and businesses have donated to the fund.
The 20-year-old woman went missing on July 18 from her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. It is about 70 miles east of Des Moines.
Officers from the FBI, state and local law enforcement agencies are working to find her.
She was last seen jogging in Brooklyn, which has a population of about 1,400. Those living in the city are coming together in hope of bringing her home.
Posters of her face are everywhere in Brookyln. It’s taped to telephone poles, in store windows, on yard signs, and on t-shirts.The company Live Now Designs, a photo and print shop, is working as a hot spot to spread the message.
Thousands of flyers, uncountable hours and giving hearts
Joy VanLandschoot, who owns the store with her husband Gabe, says the demand for items related to the search for Mollie Tibbetts is overwhelming. They’ve sold a thousand shirts, at least. And the number of free flyers is impossible to tell.
“A week ago we were at 20,000 flyers and business cards,” Joy VanLandschoot says. “We’ve made a lot more since then.”
It started with the shirts, she said. A few days after Mollie went missing, some people stopped by and wanted shirts printed, so they could wear them to RAGBRI, an annual statewide cycling event. VanLandschoot wanted to make sure Mollie’s family was okay with it.
“I asked them to help me contact the family,” she told CNN. “So the Sunday after Mollie went missing, I met with Jake Tibbetts, her father, and Morgan Collum, her cousin, and they helped design a shirt to help find Mollie.”
They thought people would be interested, so they made a hundred. Then the demand escalated.
“People wanted yard signs and magnets and stickers and buttons, and people kept saying ‘yes.'” she said. “We didn’t realize how big it would spread.”
Local businesses have donated blank business cards and reams of paper for flyers. Total Choice Shipping & Printing in nearby Grinnell is also distributing materials. About a week ago, a massage therapist came to Live Now to give much-needed massages to worn-out volunteers.
Mollie’s whole family is active in raising awareness of the search, and Jake Tibbetts stops by the shop regularly to check in and thank people who are getting the word out about his daughter. The shop’s Facebook page is eclipsed with conversations and posts about Mollie, from close friends and community members and complete strangers alike.
“It’s just been tremendous, the outpouring,” VanLandschoot says. “I didn’t know Mollie, but I feel like I do now, seeing her face every day and hearing her story,” she said.
A small town’s dedication goes national
Now posters and magnets and signs are appearing in places across the country. VanLandschoot says people from neighboring states have driven hours to pick up materials to raise awareness for Mollie’s disappearance. Just this weekend, a trio stopped by on their way from Missouri to Davenport, Iowa to purchase shirts to wear to a race.
“It’s hit the Iowa Speedway,” VanLandschoot says, of the movement to find Mollie. “It’s hit the Letcher Flea Market. We’re trying to hit Knoxville. We’re trying to spread awareness as far as we can.”
Mollie’s Movement, a Facebook page created by members of the Brooklyn community, has nearly 9,000 followers, some from the other side of the world. That particular page is focused on optimism and awareness rather than the harrowing ins and outs of the investigation. VanLandschoot said that’s for a reason.
“I think love and positivity are some of the most important things right now,” she said. “We need to keep hope and Mollie is out there, probably alive, and it’s important to keep the movement going. It also gives other people a voice, and shows other communities that, if they’re dealing with the same thing, there is a way to come together and help.”
Brooklyn is a small town, with less than 2,000 people occupying a little more than one square mile. VanLandschoot has lived here her whole life. She says confidently that it’s not just Mollie’s face that’s everywhere. It’s her spirit, and the permeating belief that, as a community, an extended family of sorts, Brooklyn can bring one of their own back home.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” she said. “And someone has messed with our village.”