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Body of nursing student found on a University of Georgia campus; suspect in custody on murder charges

Athens, Georgia — A suspect has been arrested in connection with the murder of a woman whose body was found Thursday in a wooded area on the Athens campus of the University of Georgia. The victim, Laken Hope Riley, was found after a friend told police she hadn't returned from a morning run, authorities said. 

In a news briefing Friday evening, Jeffrey Clarke, the police chief for the University of Georgia Police Department, said the suspect, 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra, is being held on charges that include malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping and hindering a 911 call.

Riley died of blunt force trauma, Clarke said. Clarke said Ibarra lived in an apartment in Athens and was not a student at UGA. Investigators served a search warrant at his apartment Friday. 

Clarke disclosed that "a combination of several things, video evidence, technology," led them to Ibarra as a suspect.  

Jose Antonio Ibarra booking photo, courtesy Clarke County Sheriff's Office. Clarke County Sheriff's Office

"At this time the investigation suggests that they had no relationship," Clarke said. "He did not know her at all. I think this was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual and bad things happened."

Clarke said three or four people were initially taken into custody, but only one person was arrested. 

This was the first homicide at the university in almost 30 years, Clarke said.  

Riley was a nursing student at the Athens campus of Augusta University, according to university President Brooks Keel. She was a junior who was on the dean's list. She was 22, CBS affiliate WANF reported.

Riley had been enrolled at the University of Georgia until the spring  of 2023. 

Laken Riley Augusta University

A friend had called University of Georgia police just after noon, concerned about Riley's well-being after she failed to return from a morning run at the school's intramural fields, the University of Georgia said. Officers searched the area at 12:20 p.m. and found Riley shortly afterwards. 

University of Georgia Police Chief Jeff Clark said Thursday night that Riley was found in the fields, unconscious, not breathing and with visible injuries. He did not provide details on how she died, citing the ongoing investigation being conducted by his department, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department. The University of Georgia said that emergency responders determined that Riley was deceased upon their arrival. 

The university said Friday that police remain on the scene and asked students to avoid the area, which is across a busy road from a large dorm and dining hall complex on what's commonly called East Campus. Most of the students in those dorms are freshmen.

Campus Death
A sign for the University of Georgia is seen in May 2004, in Athens, Georgia. Allen Sullivan / AP

Anyone with information about the case or who may have witnessed suspicious activity near the fields between 7 a.m. and noon Thursday is asked to contact the police. 

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