Emotional Vigil for Slain Augusta University Student Amid Controversy Over Suspect’s Immigration Status

While mourners spoke at a vigil remembering a beloved student found dead on the University of Georgia campus, the alleged killer’s legal status reignited debate about immigration rules.

Laken Hope Riley, a UGA student until May 2023 and a nursing student at a nearby institution, was found dead on Thursday while jogging close to a campus lake. The 22-year-old died of blunt force injuries to the head, according to Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson.

Arrest affidavits published Monday provide more information about what authorities believe occurred to Riley. One accuses the assailant of causing bodily harm “by seriously disfiguring her body or a member thereof, by disfiguring her skull.”

An investigator further claims that the accused killer concealed Riley’s death “by dragging the victim to a secluded area.”

According to another affidavit, investigators think the assailant physically prevented Riley from placing a 911 call while she was on the intramural field.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, the suspect in her murder, has subsequently been charged with felony murder, false imprisonment, and kidnapping, as well as concealing another person’s death, according to jail records. Investigators said there is no proof that Ibarra knew Riley.

Several local and national GOP leaders are now using Ibarra’s status as an undocumented Venezuelan migrant to back up their calls for stricter border security despite the fact that there is scant evidence linking immigration to crime.

UGA is now mourning two tragic fatalities that happened less than a day apart. Riley’s body was discovered barely hours after the death of a UGA student the night before.

Emotional Vigil for Slain Augusta University Student Amid Controversy Over Suspect's Immigration Status

Riley’s Alpha Chi Omega sorority at UGA co-hosted the vigil on Monday afternoon to remember both of the deceased students, according to the institution.

Chloe Mullis, Alpha Chi Omega chapter president, described UGA’s campus as “really heavy” following the killings.

“It is so obvious to me why it feels so dark right now, and that is because we lost one of the brightest lights that there’s ever been,” he remarked. “This campus and our sisterhood will never been the same without Laken Riley.”

The killings on the UGA campus are only one of several recent catastrophes on college campuses. Earlier this month, two people were killed at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. A student at the institution has been detained and charged with murder.

A Campbellsville University student was found lifeless in his room on Saturday. According to investigators, his death resulted from asphyxia caused by manual strangulation. A fellow student was detained in relation to his death.

Riley’s Killing Was a ‘Crime of Opportunity’ Authorities Say

Police began looking for Riley after receiving a phone around midday Thursday from a friend who was concerned that she had not returned from her morning jog at UGA’s intramural fields, according to Clark. Less than an hour later, she was discovered dead.

Clark described Riley’s murder as a “crime of opportunity” and believes the suspect acted alone.

“This was a very isolated incident. We haven’t had a homicide at the University of Georgia in almost 30 years,” Clark said Friday. “This was an individual who woke up with bad intentions that day.”

Police linked Ibarra to Riley’s death using campus security camera footage, physical evidence, and community information, Clark said. Investigators have secured a search warrant for Ibarra’s residence and are currently gathering evidence, and the police chief has urged anyone with information about the case to come forward.

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The Suspect’s Immigration Status Comes Under Suspicion

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement verified Sunday that Ibarra is a Venezuelan migrant who is not a US citizen, provoking outrage from many Republican lawmakers who want harsher immigration restrictions at the US-Mexico border.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Saturday, condemning his immigration policy and “demanding information” about Ibarra’s immigration status.

“Laken Riley’s tragic death struck the hearts of Georgians everywhere and has sparked national outrage,” Kemp said in a post on X. “Joe Biden’s failed policies have turned every state into a border state, and I’m demanding information from him so we can protect our people when the federal government won’t!”

Former President Donald Trump also addressed Riley’s passing on social media. The leading Republican presidential candidate blamed Biden’s immigration policy for the student’s murder and promised to perform large-scale deportations of unauthorized migrants if elected this fall.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson sent his sympathies to Riley’s family on X and urged Biden to “CLOSE THE BORDER!”

Governors near and far from the US southern border have been dealing with a flood of migrants, which has been fueled in part by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott busing migrants to Democratic-led towns in protest of the Biden administration’s immigration policy.

In a recent Pew Research Center analysis on the US southern border, 57% of Americans believe that the enormous number of migrants attempting to enter the country leads to increased crime, despite the fact that many researchers have found no such link.

Ibarra was caught in 2022 after unlawfully entering the United States and was “paroled and released for further processing,” according to an ICE statement.

He was previously detained by New York City police in September and charged with “acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation,” but was released “before a detainer could be issued,” according to ICE.

When queried regarding ICE’s statement about Ibarra’s arrest and release, New York’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Information stated that it did not have a record of the arrest.

The suspect’s brother, Diego Ibarra, 29, was also detained Friday on a federal charge of holding a false green card and faces up to ten years in jail, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

A ‘Promising Future Nurse’ Lost

Riley’s loved ones at UGA and the Augusta University College of Nursing are mourning her passing. She was recalled as a “promising future nurse” with “compassion and care for others is evident,” according to the nursing institution.

Riley had recently earned the autumn dean’s list and received her honorary white coat in August, “symbolizing humanism, compassion, and the start of her nurse’s journey,” according to a nursing college statement on Facebook. She was scheduled to graduate in 2025.

“The College of Nursing will miss Laken’s spirit on campus, and our hearts go out to her family and friends,” the college stated in a statement. “We know that she would have been a wonderful nurse, and her passing is a loss for the profession and the communities she would have graciously served.”

Lauren Phillips, Riley’s younger sister, remembered her “best friend” in an Instagram post Friday.

“The best sister and my built in best friend from the very first second,” she 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.”

A GoFundMe campaign set up to cover Riley’s burial expenses, establish a scholarship fund, and “raise homicide awareness” has raised more than $100,000 in donations.

Uga Latino Student Groups Allege They’ve Received ‘Hate Comments’

According to a joint statement posted on social media, two student organizations serving UGA’s Latino community have received “hate comments” in response to Riley’s murder and Ibarra’s arrest.

According to the UGA fact book, there were about 2,700 Hispanic students enrolled in 2022.

“In light of recent events, we find ourselves confronted with the painful reality of hatred and bigotry that has no place within our campus community,” UGA’s Hispanic Student Association and campus Latino mentorship organization LISTo wrote in a combined Instagram post.

“The hurtful and discriminatory comments made following the tragic loss of one of our own have deeply shaken us all. Such grief should not be made use for racism, hatred or xenophobia.”

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