05/18/2024

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Laken Riley

Suspect who allegedly killed Laken Riley indicted for murder, kidnapping and attempted rape in addition to unrelated peeping Tom charge

Laken Hope Riley, left inset, and investigators as they search the scene where her body was found (WXIA screenshots). Jose Ibarra, left inset, is indicted for murder in her death. (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)

A grand jury on Tuesday indicted the undocumented immigrant who allegedly killed Laken Riley, a 22-year-old student at the University of Georgia, while she was out for a jog on campus in a case that some say is a microcosm of the country’s illegal immigration problem.

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    Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, is charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault with intent to rape, kidnapping with bodily injury, obstructing or hindering a person making an emergency telephone call, tampering with evidence and peeping Tom.

    The peeping Tom is a new charge. According to the indictment, it occurred on Feb. 22, the same day he allegedly killed Riley, when he peeped into the window and “spied upon” a woman in an apartment at the University of Village Housing building.

    UGA Police Chief Jeffrey L. Clark has previously said the suspect didn’t know Riley, that it was a “crime of opportunity,” and that he lived in an apartment adjacent to Oconee Forest Park, where Riley was killed.

    “The evidence is robust,” Clark said, crediting campus security cameras as proving vital.

    According to a news release from the University of Georgia Police Department, Riley was a student at UGA through the spring 2023 semester before she transferred to the Augusta University College of Nursing program in Athens, where she had been enrolled at the time of her death.

    The case came to light when UGA police responded to a call at 12:07 p.m. on Feb. 22 from a friend of Riley, saying she had gone for a run at the Intramural Fields earlier in the morning and had not returned as expected.

    Once at the recreational area that includes several athletic fields, tennis courts, and trails for running and biking, first responders searched the surrounding area and quickly found Riley “in the forested area behind Lake Herrick” at 12:38 p.m., police said.

    An affidavit said her body lay on the ground in the woods. She appeared to be unconscious and not breathing. She had visible injuries, and officers immediately began CPR. Emergency medical responders arrived and determined she was dead.

    Police launched a criminal investigation and set up a perimeter.

    The killing sent shock waves throughout the community. Clark said it was a tragic day and noted it was the first recorded homicide on the campus in at least 20 years. Clark also noted that Riley’s death was not believed to be connected to the death on Wednesday of another student on campus.

    In a statement after the killing, the university said: “The past 24 hours have been a traumatic time for our University.”

    “Our student body is grieving the sudden death of one of our students in Brumby Hall last night. And as we continue to mourn that tragic loss of life, today’s devastating news will uniquely test the resolve of our campus community, particularly our students.”

    Nationally, the case has become a flashpoint in the immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, where illegal crossings have surged. It’s become a talking point among conservatives such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, who wore a “Say Her Name” T-shirt and a button on her lapel with Riley’s picture to President Biden’s State of the Union address, which took place not long after the killing.

    Biden also addressed the killing in his address.

    “To her parents, I say, my heart goes out to you having lost children myself. I understand,” he said.

    Jason Kandel and Jerry Lambe contributed to this report

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