Suspect Is Arrested in Killing of Woman on U. of Georgia Campus

A 26-year-old man was charged on Friday with kidnapping and murdering a nursing student whose body was found in a wooded area at the University of Georgia in Athens the previous day, the authorities announced. They called the homicide, the first in nearly 30 years on campus, “a crime of opportunity” and said that the two apparently had not known each other.

The victim, Laken Riley, 22, was an undergraduate student at the school until the spring of 2023 and then enrolled at Augusta University’s nursing program, which has a campus in Athens, school officials said. She was on Augusta University’s fall 2023 dean’s list.

University police identified the suspect as Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, at an evening news conference.

Calling it a “heartbreaking time for the university,” Jeffrey Clark, the chief of university police, said that “video footage from our campus security cameras networks” helped lead to the arrest. The charges against Mr. Ibarra include murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another, the chief said.

He said that while Mr. Ibarra lives in Athens, he is not a citizen of the United States.

Asked about the motive for the killing, Chief Clark said, “This was just a crime of opportunity.” Later he said, “This was an individual who woke up with bad intentions.”

When asked how Ms. Riley was killed, the chief said “blunt force trauma.”

The chief did not give details about how the crime unfolded, saying that the investigation was continuing. He said that while a number of people were initially taken into custody, Mr. Ibarra had acted alone and was the only one charged.

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

“Our work, however, is not done,” he said. “We are continuing to collect evidence and urge members of the community who may have pertinent information to call UGA Police Department.” He was joined at the news conference by representatives from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, who are assisting in the investigation.

In a statement released Friday night, the university said that it was “shocked and saddened by this despicable act,” and that Ms. Riley’s murder “violates our sense of safety, and it will take hard work and vigilance to restore it.”

Just after noon on Thursday, a friend reported to the campus police that Ms. Riley was missing after she did not return from a run near the university’s intramural fields, the University of Georgia Police Department said.

At 12:38 p.m., officers found her body in a patch of forest near a lake. Ms. Riley “was unconscious and not breathing” and had “visible injuries,” the police said. Paramedics arrived and pronounced her dead.

Kelly Girtz, the mayor of Athens-Clarke County, said on Thursday that he joined the community “in deep sadness over today’s murder.”

The university said the school’s president, Jere Morehead, met with members of Ms. Riley’s sorority to offer his condolences.

The school canceled the remainder of classes on Thursday and all classes on Friday. Officials encouraged students and staff members to take precautions on campus and recommended that people “travel in groups when possible and be aware of your surroundings,” according to a statement. Augusta University also said it canceled classes Friday at its nursing school campus in Athens.

“I don’t feel safe anywhere,” Anika Bhattacharya, a sophomore at the University of Georgia, told the television news outlet 11Alive on Thursday, adding that she had recently thought about going for a run in the area.

“I’m not even considering walking by myself much after all this — at least for the next couple months,” she said, adding “I just don’t want to take any chance at all.”

According to The Red & Black, a campus newspaper, students at the intramural fields said that their classes had been canceled midway through a class period on Thursday afternoon. The newspaper said that police officers had checked the identifications of the people on the fields before they left the area.

Ms. Riley attended high school in Cherokee County and was on River Ridge High School’s cross-country team.

“Our community and our world lost a shining light with the tragic passing of Laken,” Brian V. Hightower, the superintendent of schools, said in a statement.

As a member of the high school’s cross-country team for four years, she participated in the Georgia High School Association State Cross-Country Final several times, said her former coach, Keith Hooper, in a statement.

Mr. Hooper said that Ms. Riley “was an unselfish individual,” adding that her “passion for health care science and running are to be admired. She will always accompany us as we run.”

Her body was found in a wooded area near Lake Herrick, part of a larger recreational area that includes playing fields, tennis courts and trails for walking, running and biking. The lake and intramural fields abut the Oconee Forest Park.

Remy Tumin contributed reporting and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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