The murder of Laken Riley at UGA: what we know

The body of a 22-year-old woman was found Thursday in a wooded area of ​​the University of Georgia in Athens, sending shockwaves through Clarke County, a community about 70 miles east of Atlanta.

When authorities revealed that the man accused of the murder was an immigrant from Venezuela, the crime became a political flashpoint.

The victim, Laken Riley, was a nursing student at nearby Augusta University. On Friday, José Antonio Ibarra, 26, was charged with her murder. The two did not know each other, authorities said.

Many questions remain about the murder, which is believed to be the first in nearly 30 years on campus. This is what we know.

The victim

Ms. Riley was an undergraduate at the school until spring 2023. After that, she enrolled in the nursing program at Augusta University, which has a campus in Athens. school officials saying. She was at Augusta University. fall 2023 dean’s list.

In posts on Instagram, Ms. Riley’s friends described her as a great friend, student and roommate, who loved to run, dance and sing, and who had an infectious laugh.

Bianca Tiller, Ms. Riley’s freshman roommate, said Ms. Riley “brightened up every room she walked into and made everyone smile.”

Ms. Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University.Credit…Augusta University, via Associated Press

Ms. Riley was also an experienced runner. She attended high school in Cherokee County and was on the River Ridge High School cross-country team. She participated in the Georgia High School Association state cross country finals several times, her former coach, Keith Hooper, said in a statement, adding that Ms. Riley “was a selfless person.”

The suspect

Ibarra lived in an apartment complex about a mile from the wooded trail where Riley’s body was found, said University Police Chief Jeffrey Clark.

Ibarra emigrated to the United States from Venezuela, authorities said. He was arrested by Border Patrol for crossing the border illegally in September 2022 and was quickly released with temporary permission to remain in the country, according to federal officials.

That release, or parole, was a practice the administration used when officials were overwhelmed by large numbers of crossings. That practice ended about six months later.

It appears that Mr. Ibarra also spent some time in New York City. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he was arrested by the New York Police Department in August and later released. A law enforcement official in New York said Mr. Ibarra had been riding a scooter without a license and with a child who was not wearing a helmet.

Mr. Ibarra was denied bail at a hearing Saturday and remained in jail, authorities said.

the murder

Shortly after noon Thursday, a friend reported to campus police that Ms. Riley was missing after she did not return from running near the university’s intramural fields, university police said.

At 12:38 p.m., officers found his body in woods near a lake. Mrs. Riley “was unconscious and not breathing” and she had “visible injuries,” police said.

Chief Clark said Friday that he had died from “blunt force trauma.”

According to arrest affidavits filed in Athens-Clarke County Superior Court, Mr. Ibarra has been accused of using an object to attack Ms. Riley and dragging her body to a secluded area.

The charges against Mr. Ibarra include murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another person, Chief Clark said. When asked about the motive, he said: “This was just a crime of opportunity.”

Authorities said Ibarra appeared to have acted alone.

The politics

Many conservative politicians, including Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia, an Athens native, have bound the assassination of President Biden’s immigration policies. They argue that the policies have overwhelmed the country with more immigrants than the system can handle.

In a social media post, former President Donald J. Trump called Ibarra a “monster” and blamed Biden for an “invasion” that is “killing our citizens.”

To many liberals these statements have seemed like demagogic rhetoric. Kelly Girtz, the Democratic mayor of Athens-Clarke County, said the conversation should focus on grieving the victim and blaming an individual rather than a group.

“This murder was a violent and heinous act,” he said, “and falls squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.”

More than six million Venezuelans have fled their troubled country over the past decade, the largest population displacement in modern Latin American history.

At the apartment complex listed as Mr. Ibarra’s address, a resident, Manuel Alcides, 26, said many Venezuelan immigrants lived in the building. Alcides, who is also from Venezuela, said he did not know Ibarra.

“It’s a danger to our community because society will see this mistake and think the rest of us could be a threat,” Alcides said. “But we are not all the same.”

The report was contributed by Richard Fausset, Adeel Hasan, Chelsia Rose Marcio and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon.