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Laken Riley’s father says lawmakers are politicising her death ‘to get those votes’

Laken Riley’s father says lawmakers are politicising her death ‘to get those votes’

The father of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student who was murdered earlier this year, has called out lawmakers for making his daughter’s death “political”.

Jason Riley spoke out for the first time about his daughter’s death to NBC News on Monday morning. His daughter was killed while jogging on the University of Georgia campus on 22 February. Police have since arrested 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra, who migrated from Venezuela to the US in 2022 and is not an American citizen.

Now, Mr Riley is criticising lawmakers for using Ms Riley’s death as a political talking point.

“I’d rather her not be such a political, how you say – it started a storm in our country, and it’s incited a lot of people,” Mr Riley told NBC News.

“I think it’s being used politically to get those votes,” he continued. “It makes me angry. I feel like, you know, they’re just using my daughter’s name for that. And she was much better than that, and she should be raised up for the person that she is. She was an angel.”

Ms Riley’s death took centre stage at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address earlier this month. Several lawmakers wore pins with the 22-year-old’s name – and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, heckled the president to “say her name” during his speech.

Marjorie Taylor Greene wearing a ‘say her name’ shirt at the State of the Union 2024 (AP)
Marjorie Taylor Greene wearing a ‘say her name’ shirt at the State of the Union 2024 (AP)

“Laken Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” Mr Biden said in an unscripted moment, taking a pin that Ms Greene handed him. At one point, the president mispronounced her first name as “Lincoln”.

His use of the word “illegal” drew ire from many Democrats and immigration activists – and the president later said he regretted using the term.

President Joe Biden holds up a pin bearing Laken Riley’s name during his State of the Union address (AP)
President Joe Biden holds up a pin bearing Laken Riley’s name during his State of the Union address (AP)

Ms Riley’s parents had declined an invitation to attend the address from Representative Mike Collins of Georgia. Former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, met with Ms Riley’s mother and stepfather before a Georgia campaign rally earlier this month. Mr Riley also told NBC News he supports Mr Trump, particularly his immigration policies.

“Laken has been a rallying cry for secure borders and for the illegal immigration policies of this current administration, but there’s many women we don’t get to hear about,” Mr Riley said.

“I understand them wanting to come here for a better life,” Mr Riley continued. “But when you have gang members and people who can commit violent crimes, especially against women, I think we can stop some of that.”

Several lawmakers were quick to criticise the Biden administration in the wake of Ms Riley’s death.

Georgia governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, called on the president to implement stricter immigration policies.

“For more than two years, we’ve demanded action to secure our southern border and answers from the White House about who’s coming into our country,” Mr Kemp wrote on X in February. “We’ve yet to get an answer, we’ve yet to see action, and now a tragedy has happened. We need answers, and we need action, from Joe Biden and the White House NOW.”

Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives also passed the Laken Riley Act, legislation introduced by Mr Collins that would require the detention of any migrant committing burglary or theft.

The act comes after Mr Ibarra, following his arrest in connection to the murder of Ms Riley, was accused of shoplifting in Georgia and was allegedly arrested in New York. However, the New York Police Department previously told The Independent it had no record of such an arrest.

In total, 214 Republicans and 37 Democrats voted for the bill. It will now go to the US Senate, where its fate is unclear.