Advertisement

A nursing student went for a morning jog on campus and never returned. Her body was found later that day

A nursing student went for a morning jog on campus and never returned. Her body was found later that day

When 22-year-old Laken Riley never returned after going for a morning run on the University of Georgia campus, her roommate grew worried and called campus police.

A short time later, the nursing student’s body was found with “visible injuries” in a wooded area behind Lake Herrick, near UGA’s intramural fields on campus, according to University of Georgia Police Chief Jeffrey L. Clark. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators said they believe foul play was involved in Riley’s death, sparking fear across campus with some students who voiced concerned about their safety with the suspect still at large.

On Friday, police charged Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, who is not a US citizen, with malice murder, felony murder, false imprisonment, kidnapping and other charges.

Here’s what we know so far:

Athens-Clarke County police block traffic and investigate at the UGA intramural Fields after Laken Riley’s body was found on Thursday (AP)
Athens-Clarke County police block traffic and investigate at the UGA intramural Fields after Laken Riley’s body was found on Thursday (AP)

Who was Laken Hope Riley?

Laken Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University, which has an Athens campus.

Riley was from Woodstock, Georgia, graduated in 2020 from River Ridge High School, where she ran cross country and was a member of the track team, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In a statement, Cherokee County schools Superintendent Brian Hightower said: “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.”

She was a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority at UGA and was an avid runner who had completed the AthHalf Half Marathon in October. In fall 2023, she made the dean’s list at Augusta University.

Riley studied at the University of Georgia through the spring of 2023 before transferring to Augusta University’s College of Nursing, according to a statement from the University of Georgia.

Riley remained active in the sorority she joined at the University of Georgia, according to the Associated Press.

Riley had been out running on the intramural fields on the University of Georgia campus when she disappeared.

Murder charges

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, who is not a US citizen, was been charged with malice murder, felony murder, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another, Chief Clark said at a press conference on Friday night. He is being held at Athens-Clarke County Jail.

Authorities believe it was a “solo act” by Mr Ibarra, and that the suspect and victim did not know each other.

“This was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual, and bad things happened,” Chief Clark said.

Affidavits accused Ibarra of “disfiguring her skull” in support of the aggravated battery charge. The filing also alleged that Ibarra used an object to harm her and dragged her body to a “secluded area.”

Riley died of blunt force head trauma, the county coroner’s office’s preliminary cause of death revealed on Monday, AtlantaNewsFirst reported. However, the official autopsy report will take several weeks.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, has been charged with malice murder and felony murder in connection with the death of Laken Riley (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)
Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, has been charged with malice murder and felony murder in connection with the death of Laken Riley (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)

According to NewsNation reporter Brian Entin, Mr Ibarra was in the United States illegally. He is a Venezuelan national who crossed into the US at El Paso in September 2022, NewsNation reported.

On top of this, ICE wrote in a statement that Mr Ibarra had been arrested by the New York Police Department on 14 September 2023 and “charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation.”

NYPD then released Ibarra “before a detainer could be issued,” the agency added.

However, NYPD, told The Independent there was no arrest on file.

On Friday, ICE lodged a detainer on Jose Ibarra following his arrest.

Mr Ibarra’s brother Diego Ibarra was initially arrested on suspicion of killing Riley as he matched the suspect’s description.

Diego Ibarra was later charged with possession of a fake green card, according to 13WMAZ.

Homicides extremely rare on UGA campus

Investigators say they believe foul play is suspected in Riley’s death.

Coroner Sonny Wilson told CNN that her cause and manner of death are pending an examination of the body, which is scheduled for Friday.

In a press conference on Thursday night, UGA Chief of Police Jeff Clark said there had not been a homicide on campus in the last 20 years.

“We’re not going to leave any rock unturned in this investigation,” he said.

UGAPD is working with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in the ongoing investigation. The Athens coroner confirmed on Friday that Riley’s body was taken to the GBI Crime Lab in DeKalb County.

Mother shares heartbreaking post about daughter a day before she was found dead

A day before Laken Riley’s body was found at the University of Georgia campus, her mother Allyson Phillips shared on Wednesday a heartbreaking post about missing her on a trip to Colorado.

“We had a great time with great friends celebrating Brinda’s birthday in Crested Butte, CO!  Massages, skiing, great food and beautiful views!  Only thing missing was Laken Riley ❤️,” she wrote with a series of photos of their family.

The following day, Riley was found dead. Her death is now under investigation.

Riley’s sister, Lauren Phillips, paid tribute to her in an Instagram post on Friday, 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,” Ms Phillips wrote.

“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.”

Community mourns Laken Riley

Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel released a letter to his school’s community about the tragedy.

“It is with deepest sorrow that I share with you the news that one of our students at our College of Nursing campus at Athens has passed away.”

The incident comes within a day of of a suicide of a student on campus on Wednesday night.

Laken Hope Riley, in an undated photo provided by Augusta University. The nursing student was found on the University of Georgia campus after not returning from a run (AP)
Laken Hope Riley, in an undated photo provided by Augusta University. The nursing student was found on the University of Georgia campus after not returning from a run (AP)

“The past 24 hours have been a traumatic time for our University,” the university wrote in a statement.

“Our student body is grieving the sudden death of one our students in Brumby Hall last night. And as we continue to mourn that tragic loss of life, today’s devastating news will uniquely test the resolve of our campus community, particularly our students.”

Officials confirmed the suicide and Riley’s death were not connected.

On Thursday, students in Athens gathered for a vigil to remember Riley and support each other during what had become a distressing 24 hours.

“It’s just like I have to be extra, extra careful and be extra protective, and it’s just super scary,” one student told FOX5.

Students are advised to reach out to the Student Care and Outreach and Counseling and Psychiatric Services for grief support and assistance.

All classes on the University of Georgia’s Athens campus were canceled for Friday and will resume Monday, the university said.

A GoFundMe page for Riley has garnered more than $118,000 since its creation. The money will go toward funeral expenses, helping establish a scholarship in her name, and raising homicide awareness, according to the fundraiser.