The Killing at U. of Georgia: What We Know


The body of a 22-year-old woman was found in a wooded area at the University of Georgia in Athens on Thursday, sending shock waves through Clarke County, a community about 70 miles east of Atlanta.

When the authorities revealed that the man charged with the killing was an immigrant from Venezuela, the crime became a political flashpoint.

The victim, Laken Riley, was a nursing student at nearby Augusta University. On Friday, Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, was charged with her murder. The two did not know each other, the authorities said.

Many questions remain about the killing, which was believed to be the first in nearly 30 years on the campus. Here’s what we know.

The victim

Ms. Riley was an undergraduate student at the school until the spring of 2023. After that, she enrolled in Augusta University’s nursing program, which has a campus in Athens, school officials said. She was on Augusta University’s fall 2023 dean’s list.

In posts on Instagram, Ms. Riley’s friends described her as a great friend, student and roommate, who loved running, dancing and singing, and who had an infectious laugh.

Bianca Tiller, Ms. Riley’s freshman-year roommate, said that Ms. Riley “lit up every room she walked into and brought a smile on everyone’s face.”

Ms. Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University.Credit…Augusta University, via Associated Press

Ms. Riley was also an experienced runner. She attended high school in Cherokee County and was on River Ridge High School’s cross-country team. She participated in the Georgia High School Association State Cross-Country Final several times, her former coach, Keith Hooper, said in a statement, adding that Ms. Riley “was an unselfish individual.”

The suspect

Mr. Ibarra lived in an apartment complex about one mile from the wooded trail where the body of Ms. Riley was found, said Jeffrey Clark, the chief of university police.

Mr. Ibarra migrated to the United States from Venezuela, the authorities said. He was arrested by the Border Patrol for crossing the border illegally in September 2022 and was released quickly with temporary permission to stay in the country, according to federal officials.

That release, or parole, was a practice the administration used when officials were overwhelmed with high numbers of crossings. It ended that practice about six months later.

It appears that Mr. Ibarra also spent some time in New York City. According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he was arrested by the New York Police Department in August, and then released. A law enforcement official in New York said that Mr. Ibarra had been driving a scooter without a license and with a child who was not wearing a helmet.

Mr. Ibarra was denied bond at a hearing on Saturday and remained in jail, the authorities said.

The killing

Shortly after noon on Thursday, a friend reported to the campus police that Ms. Riley was missing after she did not return from a run near the university’s intramural fields, the university police said.

At 12:38 p.m., officers found her body in a patch of forest near a lake. Ms. Riley “was unconscious and not breathing” and had “visible injuries,” the police said.

Chief Clark said on Friday that she had died of “blunt force trauma.”

According to arrest affidavits filed at Athens-Clarke County Superior Court, Mr. Ibarra has been accused of using an object to attack Ms. Riley, and of dragging her body to a secluded area.

The charges against Mr. Ibarra include murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another, Chief Clark said. Asked about a motive, he said, “This was just a crime of opportunity.”

Mr. Ibarra appeared to have acted alone, the authorities said.

The politics

Many conservative politicians, including Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, an Athens native, have linked the killing to the immigration policies of President Biden. They contend the policies have overwhelmed the country with more migrants than the system can handle.

In a social media post , former President Donald J. Trump called Mr. Ibarra a “monster,” and blamed Mr. Biden for an “invasion” that is “killing our citizens.”

Such statements have struck many liberals as demagogic rhetoric. Kelly Girtz, the Democratic mayor of Athens-Clarke County, said that the conversation should be focused on mourning the victim, and on blaming an individual rather than a group.

“This murder was a violent, heinous act,” he said, “and it rests squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.”

More than six million Venezuelans have fled their troubled country over the past decade, the largest population displacement in Latin America’s modern history.

At the apartment complex listed as the address for Mr. Ibarra, one resident, Manuel Alcides, 26, said that many Venezuelan migrants were living in the building. Mr. Alcides, who is also from Venezuela, said he did not know Mr. Ibarra.

“It’s a danger for our community because society will look at this error and think the rest of us could be a threat,” Mr. Alcides said. “But we’re not all the same.”

Reporting was contributed by Richard Fausset, Adeel Hassan, Chelsia Rose Marcius and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon.

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