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Murder of Georgia student out for a run renews female joggers' fears

The tragic death of 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley highlights the ongoing violence against female runners.
Murder of Georgia student out for a run renews female joggers' fears
Posted at 7:02 PM, Feb 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-25 19:04:13-05

A tragedy has struck the close community of Athens, Georgia, with the killing of 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley on Thursday, leaving the town deeply shaken.

"I used to walk there every morning too, and it just feels like a very safe place, and it's on campus. It doesn't really feel like it would be unsafe at all," a former student of the University of Georgia, Nate Stein, said.

Authorities say the Augusta University nursing student was reported missing by a friend after she failed to return for a morning run. Her body was later found in a forested area on the University of Georgia's campus near Lake Herrick, an area with popular trails used by runners and walkers. On Friday, authorities took 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra into custody, charging him with felony murder, among other charges.

"At this time, the investigation suggests that they had no relationship. He did not know her at all. I think this was a crime of opportunity, where he saw an individual, and bad things happened," Chief Jeff Clark of the University of Georgia Police Department said.

Authorities say Ibarra is from Venezuela and is not a U.S. citizen.

"Right now, I don't know his full status. But he is not a resident. He has an apartment here in Athens, but as far as undocumented, I'm not sure, and that hasn't been confirmed. I just know he's not a citizen of the United States," Clark said.

SEE MORE: Man charged with murder after girl found dead at University of Georgia

News of Ibarra's arrest has sparked criticism of the Biden administration's immigration policies and handling of the migrant crisis at the southern border. In a letter to President Biden on Saturday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp condemned the president's handling of the crisis, writing, "While the dangers of this crisis have never been theoretical, this week our state witnessed a devastating tragedy."

"We have friends in the sorority she was in, and just to think that it's somebody that people we know actually know, it's scary that it could be anyone," a student of the University of Georgia, Paige Soskel, said.

Riley's death is the latest tragic incident in which a woman has been killed while out running in recent years. In 2018, 20-year-old college student Mollie Tibbetts was murdered while jogging near her home in Iowa. More recently, 23-year-old Ashling Murphy, a teacher in Ireland, was murdered while on a run in January 2022. 

The men responsible for their deaths were sentenced to life in prison. 

A study released by Adidas in March 2023 surveyed 9,000 runners across nine countries to understand men and women's experiences and perceptions of safety when running. The survey found that "92% of women reported feeling concerned for their safety, with half afraid of being physically attacked."

Women in Athens, Georgia, say the tragedy has left them on high alert.

"We'll go on walks and stuff; we'll always go with each other, but when we all have each other's location, we can easily go. It will tell you exactly how long we've been there," a student of the University of Georgia, Julia Lambert, said.

Authorities have not said how the woman died, but Ibarra is charged with malice murder, which in Georgia makes him eligible for the death penalty.


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