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24 Feb 2024

Georgia police on Friday arrested Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, an Athens, Georgia, resident who is not a U.S. citizen, in the murder of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student who was found dead on the University of Georgia’s campus after she never returned from a run, in a case that captured the country’s attention.

Campus Death

FILE - A sign for the University of Georgia is seen, May 28, 2004, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Allen ... [+] Sullivan, File)


Ibarra has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another—he was in court Saturday morning and was denied bond.

Since his arrest Friday, questions have swirled about Ibarra’s immigration status—University of Georgia Police Chief Jeff Clark said at a Friday news conference that while Ibarra lived in an apartment in Athens, he was not a U.S. citizen, though Clark could not confirm whether Ibarra was in the U.S. illegally.

While police initially detained multiple people, Ibarra is believed to have acted alone and was the only one charged in connection to Riley’s death, and there is no indication of an ongoing threat on campus—Ibarra did not know Riley before the murder, said Clark, who described the murder as a “crime of opportunity where he saw an individual and bad things happened.”

Ibarra does not have an extensive criminal history, at least as far as violent crimes go, Clark said Friday—an investigation was ongoing as of Friday night, including a search of his apartment, though Clark said that authorities had enough to charge Ibarra without the materials being collected there.

Melissa Hodges of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia told Forbes that they did not have information on Ibarra’s immigration status and Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the matter.

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Friday that Ibarra’s 29-year-old brother, Diego Ibarra, was charged with possessing a false green card after immigrating illegally into the U.S. from Venezuela.

“This was an individual who woke up with bad intentions on that day,” said Clark, noting that no other motive was apparent.

Some of Georgia’s Republican lawmakers called for Ibarra to receive the death penalty and criticized U.S. immigration policies following the killing. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), long a critic of the Biden administration’s handling of immigration, tweeted that “Ibarra is an illegal alien and murdered a young woman the age of my own children. Deportation is not enough. He deserves the death penalty.” Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Ibarra “would make a great first passenger for the new Pinochet Air,” referencing Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s method of killing dissidents by tossing them from a helicopter—the second time in a month that he’s suggested a non-citizen charged with a crime be tossed from a helicopter. Collins later tweeted: “Do you think parents who send their kids off to UGA (presumably a safe place away from home) are aware that Athens-Clarke County is a Sanctuary Community (1 of only 3 in GA) serving as a magnet for the type of illegal immigrant who brutally murdered Laken Riley?”

Riley was found dead near an on-campus lake Thursday. She was a nursing student at Augusta University who went for a run and never returned. Authorities immediately suspected foul play. Clark said Friday that Riley likely died of blunt force head trauma. Augusta University called her death “truly heartbreaking.”

The University of Georgia had also announced another on-campus death after a body was found in the school’s Brumby Hall dormitory Wednesday, though authorities have said there is no link between the two cases.