Laken Riley / Facebook

The family of slain jogger Laken Riley has spoken out about the 22-year-old nursing student, calling her amazing. Riley, a student at Augusta University in Athens, GA and member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, was reported missing last Thursday by a friend who said she had gone out for a run that morning and had not returned. Before 1pm that day, the University of Georgia police department found Riley unresponsive behind Lake Herrick. Despite attempts to revive her, she was pronounced dead at the scene. Autopsy results have determined that Riley died of “blunt force trauma.” A 26-year-old Venezuelan national, Jose Antonio Ibarra, was arrested the next day and charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another person. He is currently being held without bond.

In a statement released by a family friend, Riley’s family thanked the University of GA Police Department, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the Clarke County District Attorney’s Office, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation “for their quick response, and diligent effort in the investigation and arrest of those individual(s) responsible for our daughter’s death.” The statement said the family wished to honor Riley. “Laken was an amazing daughter, sister, friend and overall person in general. Her love for the Lord was exemplified in every aspect of her life. She will be missed every day, but we promise to honor her life moving forward in a very big way,” it said. The statement also requested privacy as the family grieves their loss. Samer Massad, Lead Pastor at Riley’s church, Woodstock City Church, also released a statement. “We are devasted by the news of the tragic death of Laken Riley. Laken’s family are active members of our church community. Our prayers are with them, as is our support to walk alongside them through this difficult time,” said Massad.

Riley’s death has also intensified calls from conservatives for more stringent immigration policies. According to reports, Ibarra entered the US illegally in 2022 through El Paso, Texas. He was detained there but later released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Ibarra, his wife, and 5-year-old son made their way to New York City. He was arrested last year by NYPD for endangering the welfare of a child for riding a scooter with the boy while not wearing a helmet. Ibarra and his wife have since separated and Ibarra moved to Georgia near Riley’s school. UGA Police Chief Jeffrey Clark stated he did not believe Ibarra had any connection to Riley prior to her killing. “He did not know her at all. I think this is a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual and bad things happened,” said Clark. Clark called the evidence against Ibarra “robust.” “It is supported by key input by the community, physical evidence and expert police work. Importantly, we were assisted by video footage from our campus security cameras network.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp spoke out about the case early Monday. Kemp stated he had spoken with Riley’s family over the weekend. He called the murder “avoidable” and called on justice. He called her death a “direct result” of federal policy. He called upon the federal government to release more information on illegal immigrants entering the country. He cited a number of statistics on immigration in the nation, as well as the number of times Ibarra had been detained and released. He called Riley’s resulting death from a man who was illegally in the country “inexcusable.” Riley’s funeral will be held Friday, March 1 at Woodstock City Church.

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