Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

Friends, classmates remember student found slain at UGA as neighbors describe suspect’s arrest

By 37ci3 Feb25,2024


ATHENS, Georgia – Days after Laken Hope Riley Found dead on the University of Georgia campusfriends and classmates remember the 22-year-old as a kind young woman who “brought so many people together.”

“She was the sweetest, purest-hearted young woman who brought so many people together and built so many friendships,” said Bianca Tiller, who was with Riley her freshman year at UGA.

“I came to UGA knowing less than a few people and he brought me into a group of friends, I never let him make me feel left out,” Tiller said of Riley. “He made everyone laugh and is such a kind soul.”

Laken Riley, left, with former roommate Bianca Tiller during her freshman year at the University of Georgia.
Laken Riley, left, with former roommate Bianca Tiller during her freshman year at the University of Georgia. Courtesy Bianca Tiller

“The best thing about Laken is that everyone he met could tell right away what a big heart he had,” Tiller added.

Tiller said her former roommate loved to run and tracked her runs on her Apple Watch. Tiller said Riley always shared the location of his phone with friends.

Riley’s body was found Thursday in a wooded area behind Lake Herrick with “visible injuries,” police said. He had gone for a run at Intramural Fields that morning, and when he hadn’t returned hours later, his friend called the police.

Riley died of blunt force trauma.

The suspect, identified as Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, of Athens, is charged with first degree murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, obstructing a 911 call and concealing the death of another, police said Friday. was accused.

There was no indication that Ibarra and Riley knew each other, UGA Police Chief Jeff Clark called it a “crime of opportunity” and said there was no other threat to the campus. Ibarra was being held in the Clarke County Jail.

Roommates and friends remember Riley as selfless and loving

Lilly Steiner, another friend from UGA, thanked Riley respect “for helping me find joy in life,” she wrote on Instagram on Saturday.

Sofia Magana, one of Riley’s roommates at UGA, said, “Every day you put everyone before yourself and loved no one.” he said On Instagram.

“You should have been with me on my wedding day, you should have been with us at graduation… but most importantly, you should have been here with us,” Magana wrote.

Sophia Palomino said in a respect Riley taught me so many lessons about life, friendship and sisterhood and “her love changed me for the better,” she said. He added that he admired how Riley always put others before herself.

Connolly Huth, who also lived with Riley, recalled their shared memories, saying he and Riley got to run their first marathon together.

“I will run this 26.2 in your honor and let everyone know that Laken Riley is a perfect, beautiful, funny, smart, kind and driven person,” Huth said. he wrote In an Instagram post.

Riley attended the University of Georgia in the fall 2023 semester and was attending the nearby Augusta University College of Nursing at the time of her death. One statementthe school called her a “promising future nurse,” placing her on the dean’s list in the fall.

A GoFundMe page has been set up in Riley’s honor in hopes of helping his family with funeral expenses and starting a scholarship in his name.

Flowers were laid at the UGA campus in Lake Herrick, Georgia.
Flowers were laid at the UGA campus in Lake Herrick, Georgia.Marissa Parra/NBC News

The community is reeling from Riley’s death

On Saturday, security waited outside the Alpha Chi Omega sorority house, of which Riley is still an active member, as students with flowers in hand ran to their cars with their heads down and somber looks on.

The tension on campus was palpable on Saturday.

A student sprayed pepper spray while crossing the street. He said his car had been gathering dust until this week.

A small memorial has been raised near Lake Herrick, where Riley was last seen alive, as well as the famous UGA arch. Students who had never met Riley made a sad confession as they passed him.

UGA student Millicent Dye said, “It’s really sad. I know I love to run and so I want to know that it could have been me, it could have been anybody on this campus, it’s just horrible. It could have been anybody.” .

A quiet fear also lurks on the outskirts of campus among pockets of Venezuelans living in Athens.

Outside Andreina Rivas’ apartment in the same community as Ibarra, she described the shock and fear of seeing police flock to her street, only to learn it was because a suspect she had never met lived down the road. his.

Rivas threw his hands up in frustration, reliving the moment the suspect’s family found out he was Venezuelan, like him. He added that in a group chat with other Venezuelans, some expressed fear that the locals would “come after the Venezuelans.”

The suspect’s brother is also facing legal trouble

The suspect’s brother, Diego Ibarra, 29, was also taken into custody Friday and charged with possession of a fraudulent green card, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

Diego Ibarra is an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela, the US Attorney’s Office said. He was also being held in the Clarke County Jail. It was not immediately known if he retained legal representation.

Police contacted him Friday because he matched the description of a suspect in the investigation into Riley’s death, the U.S. attorney’s office said. He allegedly showed officers his fake green card to verify his identity.

Police determined the card was fraudulent and charged Diego Ibarra. He is in state prison and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A spokesperson for UGA said he was fired from his position at the university after learning of the fraudulent green card claim.

“Diego Ibarra submitted a false green card to the hiring department to begin a temporary position as a dishwasher in Bolton Dining Hall at the University of Georgia on February 6, 2024,” the spokesperson said. “He subsequently failed to provide additional documentation required to retain the case and was never paid by the University.”

He has been arrested three times since coming to the United States for non-violent crimes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Jose Ibarra’s arrest has sparked a political firestorm in the conservative movement over immigration and border policy.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has demanded answers from President Joe Biden about Ibarra’s immigration status and his brother’s asylum claims.

“The tragic death of Laken Riley has struck a chord with Georgians everywhere and rightfully sparked national outrage,” Kemp said in a statement. “As I’ve said many times before: Because of Joe Biden’s inaction, every state is now a border state, and today I’m demanding answers and information from the Biden Administration that will help us protect our citizens when the federal government won’t.”

Jose Ibarra is not a US citizen, police said. His immigration status was unclear. A public defender representing Ibarra at the hearing did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Sunday.

Neighbors of the suspect remember the compound where the police gathered

Jennifer Slonaker and Ricky Carter, husband and wife, live in the Argo Apartment Community in Athens, one of the units above where Ibarra lives.

Slonaker said, “We’d see him everywhere. We thought he spoke Spanish, so there wasn’t much conversation. Nothing out of the ordinary. They seemed normal enough, everyone was in that apartment. Three men and a woman.”

On Friday afternoon, the couple said they saw police swarming the compound.

“There wasn’t an inch of this place that didn’t have police on it. … They searched every door in this complex, but they started from the bottom. They knew what and who they were looking for,” Slonaker said.

The couple described seeing Ibarra leave in handcuffs. He didn’t look around, kept silent and focused on the front, they said. His brother Diego followed shortly after in handcuffs.

Speaking to NBC News outside their apartment, Slonaker and her husband shared the details between smoking cigarettes. Their regular smoke breaks are due, in part, to the fact that the forensics team downstairs had not left Ibarra’s apartment until 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning.

Carter looked around, almost for a moment hesitating to keep his voice down.

“It kind of makes me feel like you could be in the middle of a killer and not even know it,” he said.

Marissa Parra reported from Athens, Georgia and Rebecca Cohen from New York.





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