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Suspect charged with murder after woman who went on run found dead on University of Georgia campus

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(ATHENS, Ga.) — A suspect was taken into custody a day after a woman who went for a run on the University of Georgia’s Athens campus was found dead due to “foul play,” school officials said Friday.

The victim, Laken Hope Riley, 22, was found in a wooded area on campus on Thursday with “visible injuries,” the university said. She died from blunt force trauma, according to University of Georgia Police Department Chief Jeffrey Clark.

A suspect in her death, 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra, has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, obstructing an emergency call and concealing the death of another. He was denied bond during an initial court appearance on Saturday and is being held at the Clarke County Jail.

Clark told reporters Friday evening they took three to four people into custody in connection with the murder but only plan to arrest Ibarra, who is from Venezuela.

“The evidence suggests that this was a solo act,” he said.

Police do not believe he knew the victim and do not have a motive, according to the chief.

“I think this was a crime of opportunity, where he saw an individual and bad things happened,” Clark said.

“Key input” from the community, physical evidence and video footage from campus security cameras helped lead investigators to the suspect, who lives in Athens, the chief said.

“There are no indications of a continuing threat to the community related to this case at this time,” Clark said.

The Justice Department said Saturday that Ibarra’s brother, Diego Ibarra, had also been arrested during the course of the investigation for presenting a fake green card after officers approached him because he matched the description of the suspect. Diego Ibarra has been charged by federal complaint with possessing a fake green card and is in state custody.

In a statement Sunday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Jose Ibarra had been arrested on Sept. 8, 2022, by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “after unlawfully entering the United States near El Paso, Texas.”

“He was paroled and released for further processing,” ICE said.

“On Sept. 14, 2023, [Jose] Ibarra was arrested by the New York Police Department and charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation,” the statement continued. “He was released by the NYPD before a detainer could be issued. On Feb. 23, 2024, ERO [Enforcement and Removal Operations] Atlanta encountered Ibarra pursuant to his arrest by the University of Georgia Police Department and being charged with murder and other crimes. ERO Atlanta lodged a detainer.”

A friend reported Riley missing shortly after noon on Thursday when she failed to return home from a run at the school’s intramural fields earlier that morning, the university said.

University police officers subsequently found her behind a lake near the fields “unconscious and not breathing,” the university said. Officers attempted to provide medical aid but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Riley was a junior at the Augusta University College of Nursing who studied at its Athens campus, the school said. She had previously attended the University of Georgia.

“This sudden loss of one of our students is truly heartbreaking,” the Augusta University College of Nursing said in a statement on Friday.

She graduated from River Ridge High School in Woodstock, Georgia, in 2020, where she ran on the school’s cross-country team for four years.

“Her passion for health care science and running are to be admired,” River Ridge High School cross-country coach Keith Hooper said in a statement to ABC News. “She will always accompany us as we run.”

Classes were canceled at the nursing school on Friday, with counselors available to staff and students.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Athens-Clarke County Police Department are assisting in the homicide investigation, the university said.

“We have been fully briefed on this terrible situation,” the university said in a statement. “We want to assure you that the safety and welfare of our campus community is our top concern.”

The incident follows the “sudden death” of a student in the campus’ Brumby Hall Wednesday night, the school said. A cause of death has not been released.

Chief Clark said there is no connection between the two deaths.

Classes will resume on Monday, the school said, calling the past 24 hours a “traumatic time” for the university.

University officials recommended that students travel in groups when possible and download the school’s safety app.

Clark urged anyone with information on the incident to contact the University of Georgia Police Department.

There has not been a homicide on the campus in the past 20 years, according to Clark.

ABC News’ Luke Barr, Alyssa Gregory, Jason Volack and Nick Uff contributed to this report.
 

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