Mollie Tibbetts: What investigators can find through missing college student’s Snapchat

A lot of focus in the search for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts has centered around tracking her digital footprints on social media, including Snapchat, one of the last applications she used before she vanished.

Snapchat Explained

Snapchat is a social media platform that allows user to send photos, messages, and videos to recipients, similar to other social media applications. According to the Des Moines Register, some people, typically teens and young adults, prefer to use Snapchat over any other method of text messaging.

What makes Snapchat different, however, is that the messages or “snaps” disappear within seconds of the recipient opening and viewing it. Recipients are unable to retrieve the message again unless they take an immediate screenshot.

One of the most popular features on Snapchat is filters. People can turn make themselves have bunny ears, puppy tongues, change their eye color, remove facial blemishes and more.

How Does Snapchat Help Law Enforcement?

Although a snap disappears after a recipient views it, Snapchat keeps a log for around 30 days of all messages, which can be viewable by law enforcement who make a valid request. With a search warrant, law enforcement can requests a user’s previous snaps, which can then provide them vital information such as when the snap was created, the general area of where it was taken, and what account it was sent from.

This information can then be used to help trace the digital footprints of missing people such as 20-year-old Mollie, who vanished after sending her boyfriend, Dalton Blake, a Snapchat photo. Blake told authorities he opened the message at around 10 p.m. that evening, but had no idea when Mollie actually sent it.

What Snapchat does not do, however, is store the photos sent to another user. So while investigators can track down when Mollie sent her last snap, they won’t be available to view the photo.

Regardless, investigators indicated that obtaining Mollie’s social media information has allowed them to create a “strong digital footprint” of her last days and hours before she disappeared.

Timeline of Mollie’s disappearance

July 16-17

  • Mollie’s boyfriend saw her for the last time on July 16, before leaving town to work at a Dubuque construction site with his brother, around 100 miles away from Brooklyn.
  • On July 17, Dalton and his brother, who lives with him, drove to work. Mollie agreed to dog-sit while he was gone.
  • At around 5:30 p.m. on July 17, Mollie’s brother, Jake Tibbetts, who shares a car with her, dropped her off at Dalton’s home. Mollie stayed alone while watching the dogs.

July 18

  • Investigators report another neighbor reported Mollie out for a jog at around 7:30 p.m. on July 18.
  • Mollie had plans to go to her mother’s house for dinner on the evening on July 18. She never showed up.
  • At 10 p.m. on July 18, Dalton opened the SnapChat message from Mollie. He said it looked like she took the photo while indoors. It’s unclear when Mollie took the picture but detectives think she took it at some point on Wednesday.

July 19

  • Jake Tibbetts, who has been cleared as a suspect, sends Mollie a text message at 7:30 a.m., asking if she needed the car for work. The text message was not read.
  • Dalton sends Mollie a text message, wishing her a good morning. Mollie does not read the text message.
  • Mollie’s mother, Laura Calderwood, sends Mollie several text messages throughout the afternoon. All text messages remain unanswered.
  • Jake Tibbetts calls Laura Calderwood and says Mollie never made it to work at a daycare center. Laura calls the police.

July 20

  • The Facebook group, “Finding Mollie Tibbetts,” was created. It currently has over 40,000 members.
  • Hundreds of people show up in the Brooklyn area to search for Mollie.
  • The Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office announces that tips should directed to its office.
  • The University of Iowa released a statement on Twitter that the school is also monitoring the incident and looking for any helpful information.

July 22

  • Authorities announce Mollie is still missing and that nothing was found during the searches.

July 23

  • Dalton tells ABC he’s optimistic about Mollie’s return.
  • Laura Calderwood says her daughter is an “outgoing, fun, loving life, loving person.”
  • Poweshiek County Sheriff Thomas Kriegel announces that no one from the “tight-knit” community in Brooklyn has been missing this long.

July 25

  • Investigators continue to follow up with tips and leads.
  • The family spreads the search even further by distributing flyers across the state.
  •  Kriegel indicates Mollie could have possibly been abducted.

July 26

  • Investigators search two hog farms after following up on tips, but the searches yield no results.
  • Wayne Cheney is questioned by the FBI.
  • Authorities search Cheney’s home and cellphone.

July 27

  • Iowa Department of Public Safety released a statement announcing that there are still no suspects but authorities will continue to pursue leads and investigate.
  • A neighbor tells a local media outlet that he spotted Mollie “walking nonchalantly” down the street.

August 2

  • As authorities searched an area close to the Lincoln Wildfire Reserve in Brooklyn, Iowa, someone mowing their lawn nearby discovered a red a shirt.
  • The shirt was turned over to the FBI for evidence processing.
  • FBI reportedly asked Cheney to take a lie detector test. He refused.

August 3

  • An FBI agent goes to Cheney’s house for a second round of questioning.

August 5

  • The reward fund for Mollie’s safe return increased to $260,000.

Mollie has long brown hair and brown eyes, weighs around 120 pounds and stands 5-feet-2 inches tall. She was last seen wearing running shoes, a pink sports bra, and dark running shorts.

Anyone with any information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers at 800-452-1111.

[Feature Photo: Mollie Tibbetts/Handout]