Jose Antonio Ibarra arrested in Laken Riley's death
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Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, is facing malice murder and other charges.

ATHENS, Ga. — The 26-year-old man accused of killing a Augusta University nursing student whose body was found on the University of Georgia campus’ likely did not know her, according to police.

In a room full of law enforcement partners, UGA Chief of Police Jeff Clark identified the suspect in the crime Friday as Jose Antonio Ibarra. According to authorities, 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley was found behind Lake Herrick in the forested area on UGA’s campus Thursday, which is not far from the intramural fields.

“At this time, the investigation suggests that they had no relationship,” Clark said. “He didn’t not know her at all. I think this was a crime of opportunity where he saw and opportunity where he saw and individual and bad things happen.”

The UGA Police Department was called by a concerned friend around noon on Feb. 22 to report that Riley had gone for a run at the fields on UGA’s campus but had not returned, according to authorities. That’s when officers headed down, arriving around 12:38 p.m. to search for Riley. Not too long after, she was found dead.

The chief said the evidence suggests this was a solo act and that Riley was killed from blunt force trauma.

Ibarra is charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another person. The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office released a photo of him just after midnight.

“We haven’t had a homicide at the University of Georgia in almost 30 years,” Clark said. “This, as I stated before, was an individual who woke up with bad intentions on that day.”

Clark called the evidence collected so far in the case “robust,” and included input from the community. He said they were also assisted by video from the campus security networks. 

“This arrest was facilitated by the excellent work by both patrol officers and detectives from the University of Georgia Police Department, and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, as well as Georgia Bureau of Investigations with the assistances of federal agencies as well,” Clark lauded.

Clark and the other law enforcement officials expressed condolences to Riley’s family and friends, calling it a “heartbreaking” time.  GBI Director Chris Hosey shared similar sentiments about Riley’s death during Friday’s news conference.

“Our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with her family, friends, and this community for many, many days to come in this tragic event,” he said. 

According to officials, Riley was a UGA student up until the spring semester of 2023 before she transferred to the Augusta University College of Nursing program at Athens. She was enrolled as a junior and on the Dean’s List. 

The nursing school in a statement said Riley, who received her honorary white coat last August and was slated to graduate in 2025, had a “promising future” as a nurse. 

Anyone who may have pertinent information to the investigation is asked to call UGA Police; detectives are still collecting evidence in the case. 

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