The award-winning voice of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia.

The Chant

The award-winning voice of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia.

The Chant

The award-winning voice of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia.

The Chant

Former University of Georgia student murdered on campus

February+22%2C+2024%2C+tragedy+struck+one+of+America%E2%80%99s+highest-ranking+universities+with+the+homicide+of+Laken+Hope+Riley.+After+a+friend+reported+that+Riley+failed+to+return+after+a+morning+run%2C+police+officers+found+her+body+behind+a+lake+at+UGA.+Shortly+after%2C+police+arrested+Jose+Ibarra+and+charged+him+with+eight+criminal+charges.+As+UGA+members+grieve+the+loss+of+a+brilliant+student%2C+politicians+have+used+Ibarra%E2%80%99s+undocumented+status+as+a+talking+point+for+immigration+reform.+%0A
Courtesy of Laken Riley
February 22, 2024, tragedy struck one of America’s highest-ranking universities with the homicide of Laken Hope Riley. After a friend reported that Riley failed to return after a morning run, police officers found her body behind a lake at UGA. Shortly after, police arrested Jose Ibarra and charged him with eight criminal charges. As UGA members grieve the loss of a brilliant student, politicians have used Ibarra’s undocumented status as a talking point for immigration reform.

Laken Hope Riley: Born in Marietta, Georgia on January 10, 2002, Riley always tried her best to make the people around her happy. Known for her infectious smile and ability to spread joy to strangers, she became an adored sorority member at the University of Georgia (UGA). She attended UGA until May 2023 and later transferred to Augusta Medical College for a nursing degree. The future looked bright for Riley, as she would have graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2025, but a friend became concerned after she failed to return from a morning run February 22, 2024. The friend called UGA’s police department that afternoon, and authorities later found Riley’s body in the woods behind Lake Herrick. Riley died at 22 years old. 

At 12:38 P.M., officers found Riley with visible injuries and stated that she died from blunt force trauma. The police later announced the arrest of 26-year-old Venezuelan immigrant Jose Antonio Ibarra, a man who lived one mile away from the crime scene. Ibarra currently faces eight criminal charges — malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another. Ibarra entered the United States undocumented 18 months ago and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested him after unlawfully entering the United States near El Paso, Texas in September 2022. According to federal officials, ICE officers shortly released Ibarra with temporary permission to stay in the country. The New York Police Department also arrested him in September 2023 for a motor vehicle license violation and reckless endangerment of a child. October 2023, Jose and his brother Diego Ibarra additionally faced accusations of shoplifting at a Walmart in Athens, Georgia. Riley and Ibarra allegedly did not know each other before the attack and Ibarra allegedly committed a crime of opportunity.

As people continue to mourn the loss of a nursing student known for her caring attitude, several conservative politicians have linked the killing to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies. Governor Brian Kemp, an alumnus of UGA, claimed that mass migration resulted in the death of Riley. Kemp also shared a letter on social media directed to Biden, where he discusses illegal immigration and drug smuggling in the first paragraph and the death of Riley in the second paragraph. Former President Donald Trump called Ibarra a monster and blamed Biden for an invasion that would allegedly kill American citizens. As of February 28, Biden has remained silent about Riley’s death. 

“Laken Riley’s case is terrifying to me as a potential UGA student. It’s scary to think that such a bright woman like her, who was following all of the rules—staying near people, being out during the daylight, and knowing her route—could be so horrifically taken advantage of and killed. Making this into a political issue regarding immigration is wrong. What we should focus on is how to make spaces safer for women and take action against brutal violence,” magnet senior Bianca Orfila-Molinet said. 

The killing of Riley sent shockwaves across Georgia, as UGA ranks #47 in national universities and her death became the first homicide at UGA in at least 30 years. On February 26, UGA students and staff hosted a vigil honoring the lives of Riley and Wyatt Banks, a UGA student who passed away a day before the killing of Riley. At a time of unexpected grief, UGA members came together and honored the lives of two extraordinary lives who left the world too soon. 

“I feel very disheartened and concerned for not just me but for the safety of the general UGA population. I think that there could be more done in order to ensure the health of the students, in both physical and mental aspects. Blue lights should be implemented across the premises of the campus, as well as the installation of more cameras in key places. The necessary increase of campus police should also be in play as well,” UGA senior Marc Ordonio said. 

 
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About the Contributor
Ivan Mendoza, Page Editor
Ivan Mendoza is a senior at NC and has been a part of The Chant staff since 2022. Since his adolescence, he always pursued reading and writing and felt that The Chant provided the perfect outlet for him to write about whatever he wanted. From music reviews to thorough investigations to award-winning documentaries, Mendoza is not afraid to expose his thoughts and opinions on the world around him. Whenever he’s not writing for The Chant, Mendoza is either filming a video, biking or wasting his entire paycheck on amazing novels, memoirs or superb vinyls. Find him on Instagram at @ivans.interludes.  

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