New details emerge following arrest in case of murdered University of Georgia jogger

ByAshley R. Williams, Raja Razek and Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, CNNWire
Sunday, February 25, 2024
New details emerge following arrest in case of murdered UGA jogger
Jose Antonio Ibarra is a Venezuelan migrant who is not a United States citizen, ICE confirmed. He is facing charges in Laken Hope Riley's UGA death.

ATHENS, Ga. -- As the investigation continues into the death of an Augusta University College of Nursing student on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Thursday, federal officials confirmed the immigration status of a suspect now in custody.

Augusta University junior Laken Hope Riley, 22, was found dead on Thursday near a lake on UGA's campus after jogging nearby, authorities said.

The suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, of Athens, was charged in Riley's killing with felony murder, false imprisonment, kidnapping and concealing the death of another and was denied bond Saturday morning, Athens-Clarke County jail records show. Authorities say there is no evidence Ibarra previously knew the victim and was not a student at UGA.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Sunday Ibarra is a Venezuelan migrant who is not a United States citizen.

His brother, Diego Ibarra, 29, is in custody on federal charges of possessing a fraudulent green card and faces up to a decade in prison, according to the US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

Both brothers are undocumented. The immigration status of the suspect prompted requests from Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to President Joe Biden "demanding information" related to Riley's death as he criticized Biden's immigration policies.

Vigil and funeral to be held for victim

Riley's family announced a funeral service would be held for the late nursing student on Friday.

Riley's Alpha Chi Omega sorority at UGA, where she attended college until spring of 2023, will host a vigil Monday in remembrance of the victim and another UGA student who died on campus last week, the university announced.

A GoFundMe campaign set up for Riley's memorial and to establish a scholarship fund had received more than $100,000 in donations by Sunday afternoon.

"All proceeds going towards starting the Laken Hope Riley foundation which will be used to drive homicide awareness and safety for women," according to the according to Poole Funeral Home.

Suspect was arrested in 2022 after unlawfully entering US, ICE says

The suspect in Riley's killing was arrested in 2022 after entering the United States illegally, according to a statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ibarra entered the US near El Paso and was arrested by US Customs and Border Protection on Sept. 8, 2022, according to the statement from the agency.

"He was paroled and released for further processing," ICE noted.

New York City police also arrested Ibarra last September and charged "with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation," according to ICE.

The NYPD released him "before a detainer could be issued," the agency said.

When contacted about ICE's statement about Ibarra's arrest and release, New York's office of the deputy commissioner of information said it did not have an arrest for Ibarra on record.

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations' Atlanta Field Office has lodged a detainer against Ibarra following his arrest on Friday, the agency says.

Concerns raised regarding Ibarra's immigration status

As the investigation into Riley's death continued Sunday, Ibarra's immigration status has become the focus of officials concerned about tightening border security.

Republican Gov. Kemp, who addressed a letter to Biden blasting his immigration's immigration policies in the wake of Riley's death, requested confirmation on Saturday of the suspect's immigration status as well as any information available regarding the asylum claims and release of the suspect's brother.

"Laken Riley's tragic death struck the hearts of Georgians everywhere and has sparked national outrage," Kemp said in a post on X. "Joe Biden's failed policies have turned every state into a border state, and I'm demanding information from him so we can protect our people when the federal government won't!"

The governor also wrote, "While media reports surrounding this case have relied on sources and leaks from your own federal agencies, the answers to these basic questions must be provided publicly as soon as possible."

House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote on X on Saturday offering prayers to Riley's family and called on Biden's administration to use its "existing statutory authority and close the border."

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment about Kemp's letter and requests on Saturday.

CNN's Caroll Alvarado contributed to this report.

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