Illegal Immigrant Arrested For The Killing Of UGA Nursing Student

A woman found murdered on the University of Georgia campus after she went for a jog has been identified by authorities as 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley, according to the Athens-Clarke County coroner.

Riley had gone for a run, according to UGA, and when she didn’t return at an expected time, friends called the police. UGA police found her body, which had visible injuries, around 1 p.m.

The nursing student was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Riley graduated in 2020 from River Ridge High School, where she ran cross country and was a track team member.

”Our community and our world lost a shining light with the tragic passing of Laken. An outstanding scholar-athlete, Laken inspired classmates and teachers with her love of learning and her kindness to all. We ask that the community please keep her family in their hearts,” said Cherokee County School District Superintendent Brian Hightower in a written statement to the AJC.

UGA police Chief Jeff Clark announced on Friday that Jose Antonio Ibarra, an illegal immigrant, is charged with malice and felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another.

Classes at both the Augusta University College of Nursing and UGA were canceled Friday and are set to resume on Monday. University officials have advised students to travel in groups and to stay up-to-date on the school’s safety app.

Riley’s death came less than one day after the sudden death of another student in a campus dorm room Wednesday night, UGA noted; however, UGA Police Department Chief Jeffrey Clark clarified there is no connection between the two incidents.

Allyson Phillips, Laken’s mother, took to Facebook on Wednesday afternoon to share pictures and videos of a family ski vacation.

“We had a great time with great friends celebrating Brinda’s birthday in Crested Butte, CO! Massages, skiing, great food, and beautiful views. The only thing missing was Laken Riley,” Phillips wrote.

Riley’s sister, Lauren Phillips, paid tribute to her Friday in an Instagram post, calling her “the best sister and my built-in best friend from the very first second.”

“This isn’t fair, and I will never understand it, but I know you are in heaven with the man you loved most right now. I’m not sure how I’m going to do this, but it’s all going to be for you from now on. I cannot wait to give you the biggest hug someday. I will miss and love you forever, Laken,” Lauren wrote.

Murder is relatively rare in Athens, with the city averaging six per year, about half Georgia’s statewide average. But Athens-Clarke crime statistics show other types of crime with rates above the statewide average, including aggravated assault, burglary, rape, and motor vehicle theft.