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Police identify suspect in murder of nursing student on UGA campus

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia officials have confirmed that they have taken a suspect into custody in the murder of a 22-year-old nursing student on the UGA campus.

Friends reported Laken Hope Riley missing after they say she went for a jog Thursday near the university’s intermural fields and never returned.

Police found her unconscious and injured in a wooded area behind the fields around 12:30 p.m. She was pronounced dead at the scene and police have ruled her death a homicide. Police said Riley died of blunt-force trauma.

On Friday, police swarmed an apartment complex off S. Milledge Avenue.

Police have since confirmed the arrest of 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra, who is expected to be charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another.

Ibarra is not a U.S. citizen and was not a student at UGA, according to UGA police.

Police said Iberra and Riley did not know each other and called it a “crime of opportunity.” They said they believe Ibarra acted alone.

“This is an individual who woke up with bad intentions on that day,” UGA police chief Jeff Clark said.


22-year-old Laken Hope Riley of Woodstock, Georgia was an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia until the spring of 2023. Augusta University confirmed that she is a student at their College of Nursing campus in Athens.

Classes at UGA and the Augusta University College of Nursing have been canceled until Monday.

The death rattled both students and parents.

“That hits a little too close to home,” said Veronica Bennett.

Bennett’s daughter is a UGA junior. She’s part of a group of mothers pushing for security improvements she says the university has rejected, such as blue safety lights, that go beyond the UGA safety app.

“As a parent, I get tired of that being UGA’s go-to. Oh, we have the safety app. Well, the safety app is not much of a deterrent,” said Bennett.

This is the second on-campus death at UGA this week. A student was found dead at Brumby Hall on Wednesday night.

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