Candlelight Vigil For Young Iowans Held In Waterloo

A candlelight vigil that focused on unsolved cases involving young people in Iowa was attended by more than 200 people Wednesday night (Aug. 1, 2018).

Parents, friends and community members gathered at the RiverLoop Amphitheatre in downtown Waterloo for the “Light Up The Night For Our Kids” event. One of the speakers was 27-year-old Morgan Collum of Brooklyn, the cousin of missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.

“The last two weeks have been really difficult,” Collum said. “You wake up and you look at yourself in the mirror and you're like 'how am I going to get through this day, what am I going to do to get through this day, how am I going to help to bring Mollie home?' If it wasn't for God, I don't know how I'd be standing here in front of you.”

Tibbetts, 20, disappeared on July 18 while jogging in Brooklyn, a central Iowa community in Poweshiek County. Since then, hundreds of volunteers and dozens of local, state and federal investigators have been trying to figure out what happened to the young woman.

“The community where I come from has been unreal, amazing,” Collum said. “My family and I can't say thanks enough to them. Not only my community, but the entire state of Iowa. The way that this state has come together to help share Mollie's story, makes me so incredibly proud to come from a state where you care about your neighbor.”

Later, Collum talked about the emotional roller coaster her family has been through since Tibbett's disappearance.

“You wake up, and some days you feel extremely hopeful; some days you are lost, confused and frustrated,” Collum explained. “We've been practicing a lot of patience and trust, especially with law enforcement and the work that they're doing to get Mollie's case resolved.”

With no clues on where Tibbetts might be, Collum admitted that it's getting more difficult to remain optimistic about her cousin's safe return as time passes.

“It's challenging, but I am very strong in my faith,” Collum said. “I spend a lot of time everyday with my family. If it wasn't for those two elements, I would be extremely lost.”

Wednesday's event was organized by the Family and Children's Council of Black Hawk County, a Waterloo-based organization that works to prevent child abuse and strengthen families.

Also attending the vigil were family and friends of Jake Wilson, the autistic 16-year-old from La Porte City who went for a walk on April 7 and never returned home; 14-year-old Kaiden Estling of Maynard, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his moped in Fayette County on June 28; and Elizabeth Collins and Lyric Cook-Morrissey, the young cousins taken by someone in Evansdale on July 13, 2012, who were later found murdered. The cases are all unsolved.

Drew Collins, Elizabeth's father, presented a $9,000 check -- nearly half of the amount raised during a July fund-raiser -- to the local Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers program. Coordinator Brice Lippert says the program recently purchased 1,000 kits that allow parents to collect DNA samples of their children. Authorities plan to distribute the kits at community events, such as the Iowa Irish Fest in Waterloo this weekend.

“I hope, and I pray to God that we wasted all that money,” Lippert said. “I hope those 1,000 kits are never touched, they're never analyzed, and they're never needed.”

State Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Waterloo) said Iowa lawmakers have made improvements on funding upgrades to emergency alert systems across the state, but he believes more can be done at the Statehouse to keep children safe. Danielson wants to develop a notification system using social media that would eliminate some of the criteria currently required to issue an Amber Alert.

“Our professionals in law enforcement have a wonderful tool, but it is limited in the uses that it can be used to inform the community,” Danielson said. “We need to think about, not only using social media in the private sector, but our public sector resources in a way that we have better early warning.”