Suspect in Student Murder at UGA Was Arrested Last Year, ICE Says

Clarke County Sheriff's Office
Clarke County Sheriff's Office

The 26-year-old Venezuelan man charged with killing Georgia nursing student Laken Riley this week had a prior criminal history, a spokeswoman for ICE revealed Sunday.

Jose Ibarra, who was arrested in connection with Riley’s death on Friday, had been charged with endangering a minor when he was caught driving an unregistered car with his child inside in August 2023, ICE spokeswoman Lindsay Williams said in a statement to The Daily Beast.

Williams confirmed that the suspect illegally crossed into the U.S. near El Paso, Texas, in 2022. Ibarra was “paroled and released for further processing,” and eventually made his way to New York City, where he was arrested a year later. “He was released by the NYPD before a detainer could be issued,” Williams added.

Ibarra and his brother, Diego, lived in an apartment complex only 1 mile away from the site where slain nursing student Laken Riley’s body was found on Thursday, according to University of Georgia police. Both of them are held without bond at the Athens-Clarke County Jail.

Riley’s body was discovered with “visible injuries” near a lake by the intramural fields at UGA on Thursday afternoon, police said, and a coroner later ruled she had died by blunt force trauma.

22-Year-Old UGA Nursing Student Identified as Slain Jogger

UGA police chief Jeffrey Clark said Ibarra did not know Riley and described the killing as a “crime of opportunity.”

He said Ibarra had been arrested based on “robust” evidence, including footage from a security camera at the university. Clark added that authorities would continue to search his apartment.

“I will say, we didn’t need the evidence inside of the apartment to convict Mr. Ibarra,” Clark told reporters during a press conference on Friday evening.

Reeling from her death, Riley’s family and friends spoke out to mourn the young nursing student, who had transferred to Augusta University in Athens from UGA in 2023.

Her family released a statement through a close friend on Saturday, thanking the police and investigators for their work in catching the 22-year-old’s alleged killer. They remembered Riley as a faithful and loving person toward everyone around her.

“Laken was an amazing daughter, sister, friend and overall person in general. Her love for the Lord was exemplified in every aspect of her life. She will be missed every day, but we promise to honor her life moving forward in a very big way,” the statement reads.

The family also asked for space as they process the tragedy, and as authorities prosecute the suspect.

“During this most difficult time, we ask that you respect our privacy, and provide us the time and space necessary to grieve our daughter's life that was tragically cut short,” they said.

Riley’s friends described her as unconditionally kind to strangers and supportive of her loved ones. Connolly Huth, a college roommate and close friend, lamented how bright the young woman’s future was.

“You were supposed to cross the finish line with me for our first marathon, you were supposed to stand next to me at my wedding, you were supposed to save so many lives, you were supposed to be the aunt to my children. It was not supposed to be like this,” Huth wrote in a statement posted to Instagram. “I find peace in knowing how strong your faith was in God and how your actions reflected him in everything you did.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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