UGA campus death: Bond denied for suspect accused of killing nursing student Laken Riley

A suspect in the death of Augusta University student Laken Riley, who was found dead on the campus of the University of Georgia, has been taken into custody, according to the UGA Police Department.  On Saturday morning, he was denied bond during a brief court appearance. 

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, who lives in Athens, was booked into the Athens-Clarke County Jail Friday night on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another. 

The suspect was not shown on camera during the court appearance on Saturday. 


During a press conference on Friday evening, investigators revealed Ibarra did not know Riley and this was a crime of opportunity. They say the campus camera system and witnesses were able to lead them to the suspect. They are still collecting evidence at his home.

University officials went on to say there are no indications of a continuing threat to the UGA campus related to this matter.

Riley was reported missing by a friend to UGA's police department at approximately 12:07 p.m. on Feb. 22. The caller informed the police that the 22-year-old nursing student had gone for a run near the Intramural Fields earlier in the day and had not returned as expected.

Upon receiving the report, officers responded promptly and initiated a search. At around 12:38 p.m., a body was discovered in the forested area behind Lake Herrick.

UGA police enlisted the assistance of the Athens-Clarke County police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) in their ongoing investigation. 

On Thursday evening, they held a press conference, disclosing that the victim was a nursing student at Augusta University. Authorities reassured the public that efforts were underway to locate the perpetrator, emphasizing that there was no "immediate threat" to the community. The cause of Riley's death was not disclosed.

In response to the tragic incident, students in Athens gathered for a vigil on Thursday night. Expressing their desire to come together during what had been a distressing 24 hours on campus, one student remarked, "It's just like I have to be extra, extra careful and be extra protective, and it's just super scary."

The area around Lake Herrick is widely used by students and others for jogging. 

Who is Laken Hope Riley


Laken Hope Riley. Photo courtesy of University of Augusta. 

Police confirmed on Thursday night that the victim was a nursing student at Augusta University. Riley was a student at UGA through Spring Semester 2023, at which time she transferred to the nursing program in Athens. 

Riley was a graduate of River Ridge High School in Cherokee County. Supt. Dr. Brian V. Hightower says schools are currently on break, but River Ridge High School counselors will be available to any student, teacher or staff member who needs their help when school resumes. They also released the following statement: 

"Our community and our world lost a shining light with the tragic passing of Laken.  An outstanding scholar athlete, Laken inspired classmates and teachers with her love of learning and her kindness to all.  We ask that the community please keep her family in their hearts."


What happened Friday

On Friday, police established a mobile command center at the Argo Apartments off Milledge Avenue near Lake Herrick and UGA. At around 1 p.m.,UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor confirmed they were speaking to a person of interest. It was later announced that an arrest had been made. At 7 p.m., a press conference was held to provide more information about the suspect and arrest. 

Authorities are still asking everyone to avoid the area while they conduct their investigation. 

Help for students 

Both UGA and Augusta University canceled Friday's classes. 

Students are advised to reach out to the Student Care and Outreach and Counseling and Psychiatric Services for grief support and assistance.

The College of Nursing sent the following email after Riley was identified Friday morning:

Dear Augusta University Family,

We have learned this morning that authorities in Athens have confirmed the identity of our College of Nursing student who passed away Thursday. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Laken Riley, a junior and Dean’s List student who studied at our campus in Athens.

This sudden loss of one of our students is truly heartbreaking. Counseling support services continue to be available at 833-910-3364 for any university students, faculty and staff who are in need, as well as on-site at our College of Nursing Athens and Augusta campuses.

Please keep Laken’s family, friends and fellow nursing students in your thoughts and prayers.

Brooks A. Keel, PhD

President, Augusta University

Connection between Augusta University and UGA

The Augusta University and University of Georgia have a medical partnership that combines the significant instructional and research resources of UGA with the expertise of Georgia's only public medical school, the Medical College of Georgia. In 2009, the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and the University of Georgia partnered to create a four-year medical school campus in Athens to alleviate a statewide shortage of physicians that threatens the health of Georgians, according to their website. 

Recent tragedies at UGA

This death comes on the heels of a suicide of a student on campus on Wednesday night.

"The past 24 hours have been a traumatic time for our University. Our student body is grieving the sudden death of one 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," the university wrote in a statement.

Officials confirmed the suicide and Thursday's death were not connected. 

Anyone with information about the incident should call the UGA Police Department at 706-542-2200.