Who Was Laken Hope Riley? University of Georgia Nursing Student Killed by Illegal Immigrant after She Went Missing Was a Star Athlete

She had earned her graduate degree from River Ridge High School in 2020 before completing her undergraduate degree at UGA in 2023.

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Laken Hope Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, was found dead at the University of Georgia's intramural fields on Thursday around at 12:30 p.m. Her body was found after she was reported missing by her roommate, who said that Riley had not come back home after going for a run.

"The individual was unconscious and not breathing and had visible injuries," said UGA Police Chief Jeffrey L. Clark. A 26-year-old man has been charged with the murder of Riley. The man was identified as Jose Antonio Ibarra who was arrested on Friday for allegedly kidnapping and killing Riley. Clark said Ibarra was not a UGA student and not a U.S. citizen.

Young Life Lost Tragically

Laken Riley
Laken Riley X

Riley, originally from Woodstock, Georgia, was a senior nursing student at Augusta University College of Nursing in Athens. She had earned her graduate degree from River Ridge High School in 2020 before completing her undergraduate degree at UGA in 2023.

During her high school years, Riley actively participated in cross country and track as a member of the teams, earning praise from Cherokee County School District Superintendent Brian Hightower, who described her as an "outstanding scholar athlete."

Laken Riley
Laken Riley Facebook

She was also affiliated with the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

Riley was pronounced dead at the scene by authorities who found her in an area behind Lake Herrick. This location is across a busy road from UGA's East Campus, which includes a large dormitory and dining hall complex.

Clark said on Friday that the cause of her death was "blunt force trauma."

Laken Hope Riley
Laken Hope Riley Facebook

According to police, Ibarra is a migrant and doesn't hold a US citizenship. While Clark was speaking, police were searching Ibarra's Athens apartment. However, prior to the search warrant being carried out, he said that there was sufficient evidence for charges against him.

"The evidence is robust. It is supported by key input by the community, physical evidence and expert police work. Importantly, we were assisted by video footage from our campus security cameras network," Clark said.

Ibara is charged with kidnapping, obstructing a 911 call, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated violence, false imprisonment, malicious murder, and concealing the death of another.

Family and University Devastated

It appears that Riley had a close relationship with her family, as evident from various photos and videos shared by her relatives on social media, documenting her significant achievements over the years.

Laken Riley
Laken Riley Facebook

Riley's mother, Allyson Phillips, posted pictures and a video on Facebook that show Riley's taking part in the Augusta University nursing program's white coat ceremony in August 2023.

"Today was a proud mamma moment! We celebrated Laken starting nursing school at her white coat ceremony," she wrote.

"This girl works harder than anyone I have ever met! I am just so beyond proud and I can't wait to see what God has planned her."

Following the news of Riley's death, Hightower gave a written statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "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."

Laken Riley
Laken Riley Facebook

On Friday, the University of Georgia issued a statement on their website regarding the incident.

"We have been fully briefed on this terrible situation. Foul play is suspected, and we are already receiving support from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Athens-Clarke County Police Department to investigate this crime," it said.

Clark said it is unclear where Ibarra is from or what his legal status is in the nation.

This article was first published on February 24, 2024