The family and friends of Mollie Tibbetts, an Iowa college student who disappeared while jogging and was later found dead, say they don’t want her death politicized.
Several of Tibbetts’ family members spoke out following Tuesday’s news that the 20-year-old’s body was found, and that Cristhian Bahena Rivera is charged with first-degree murder.
Police have said 24-year-old Rivera was in the United States illegally from Mexico.
However, Rivera’s lawyer has disputed that claim. Defence attorney Allan Richards said Wednesday he was prepared to argue that his client was in the country legally, noting that he came to the U.S. as a minor and had worked and paid taxes for years.
While Rivera’s immigration status is disputed, Tibbetts’ relatives have asked U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters to stop using her death as a means of promoting an immigration crackdown.
WATCH: Mollie Tibbetts’ murder reignites immigration fight
In an interview with CNN, Tibbetts’ aunt, Billie Jo Calderwood, said she doesn’t want her niece’s memory to be overshadowed by politics.
“I don’t want Mollie’s memory to get lost amongst politics,” Calderwood told CNN. “It’s not about race, it’s about people joining together to do good.”
Tibbetts’ distant cousin, Sam Lucas, also spoke out on Twitter, slamming conservative activist Candace Owens for using the death to attack “illegal immigrants.”
“Hey i’m a member of mollie’s family and we are not so f***ing small-minded that we generalize a whole population based on some bad individuals. now stop being a f***ing snake and using my cousins death as political propaganda. take her name out of your mouth,” she wrote on Twitter Tuesday.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Lucas explained she wasn’t very close with Tibbetts, but felt the need to protect her family.
“I wanted to protect my family from this extra grief of politics,” Lucas told the newspaper.
“Even if it was coming from the other side, on some other issue that connected somehow to my cousin, I’d say the same thing.”
Lucas added she believes Rivera is a “demon and an evil man,” but it has “nothing to do with” his immigration status.
A friend of Tibbetts also echoed those sentiments while at a vigil in Iowa City Wednesday.
WATCH: First degree murder charge filed against Cristhian Rivera in Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts’ death
“I also know what Mollie stood for … and she would not approve,” Breck Goodman said, according to CNN. “So I don’t want her death to be used as propaganda.”
Goodman added that Tibbetts would never want her death to be used as a means for more discrimination and prejudice.
Tibbetts’ immediate family has also spoken out following her death but stayed away from commenting on politics.
“On behalf of Mollie’s entire family, we thank all of those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our girl. We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, Trump has commented on Tibbetts death several times in the past few days.
The president noted the arrest at a rally in West Virginia this week: “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful young woman. Should’ve never happened. Illegally in our country.”
Trump also posted a video to Twitter Wednesday, saying the death proves why a U.S.-Mexico border wall is needed.
“We need the wall, we need our immigration laws changed. We need our border laws changed,” he said.
The White House’s account also released a Twitter video on her death. The video featured several “angel families,” whose members have been killed by unauthorized immigrants.
“The Tibbetts family has been permanently separated. They are not alone,” the tweet read.
Other Republican politicians have echoed Trump’s remarks, including Vice-President Mike Pence.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds also blamed the “broken illegal system” for Tibbetts’ death.
“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can bring justice to Mollie’s killer,” she wrote.
— With files from The Associated Press