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Man charged with murder after girl found dead at University of Georgia

Police said they have charged a man with murder after a 22-year-old woman's body was found on the University of Georgia's campus Thursday.
Suspect in custody after student's body found at University of Georgia
Posted at 4:52 PM, Feb 23, 2024

A man has been arrested and charged with murder after a woman was found dead of blunt force trauma on the University of Georgia's campus, police said Friday.

During a press conference, UGA Police Chief said Jose Antonio Ibarra, a 26-year-old living in Athens, Georgia, had been arrested in the killing of Laken Hope Riley, a 22-year-old whose body was found with "visible injuries" Thursday afternoon.

Ibarra was charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another in relation to Riley's death. He'll soon be transported to Clark County Jail after police obtain the arrest warrant.

Clark noted Ibarra was not a U.S. citizen, but he did not clarify whether that meant he was undocumented. The police chief also said the man doesn't have a violent criminal history and confirmed the suspect wasn't a UGA student, despite living in an apartment in the college town.

Authorities were executing a search warrant of the apartment at the time of the press conference, but Clark said the evidence they were collecting was unnecessary to convict Ibarra, as campus security footage and physical evidence pointed them to him.

So far, the investigation suggests the two did not know each other, with Clark calling it a "crime of opportunity." The police chief said Ibarra is the only arrest in the case out of the "three to four" people who were taken into custody.

"The evidence suggests that this was a solo act," Clark said, confirming police believe there is no evidence of a continuing threat to the UGA campus at this time.

The update came hours after UGA police, joined by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department in the investigation, said they were questioning a person of interest in the homicide case. 

Earlier Friday, police were seen investigating an apartment complex located near the wooded area where Riley's body was found, as well as scouring the woods itself.

Officials were pointed to the area around noon Thursday after a concerned friend reported Riley hadn't returned from a morning run at UGA's intramural fields.

Less than an hour later, police found Riley in the forested area behind Lake Herrick, located near the intramural fields. She was "unconscious and not breathing" with "visible injuries," and emergency medical responders determined she was dead before officers found her.

Clark confirmed Riley's cause of death was blunt force trauma during the Friday press conference.

Riley was a junior at the Augusta University College Of Nursing in Athens, where UGA is also located, at the time of her death. She transferred there after studying at UGA through the spring of 2023 and became a Dean's List student.

"This sudden loss of one of our students is truly heartbreaking," Augusta University said in a statement Friday. "Please keep Laken's family, friends and fellow nursing students in your thoughts and prayers."

Both UGA and Augusta University's Athens campus canceled classes Friday. The former had advised students to travel in groups after saying Thursday it suspected foul play was involved in Riley's death.

This is the first on-campus homicide UGA has seen in the last 30 years, Clark said during a press conference Thursday. 

Clark also confirmed the murder case was not related to the "sudden death" of a male UGA student Wednesday. His body was found in his dorm room after officers received a call requesting medical assistance for an "unresponsive individual who had taken steps to cause self-harm," UGA Police records state.

SEE MORE: Foul play suspected after woman found dead at University of Georgia


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