Laken Riley's family speaks out about murder, praises 'her love for the Lord'

A police vehicle is stopped alongside a lake on the University of Georgia campus following the murder of nursing student Laken Riley on Feb. 22, 2024.
A police vehicle is stopped alongside a lake on the University of Georgia campus following the murder of nursing student Laken Riley on Feb. 22, 2024. | YouTube/NBC News

The family of Laken Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student found dead on the University of Georgia campus on Thursday, have issued a statement about the young woman's murder at the hands of an illegal immigrant who had previously been released from an immigration detention center. 

Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University who was found dead at the University of Georgia after going for a jog on campus. The university's police department discovered the girl's body Thursday, and the cause of death was eventually identified as blunt head force trauma. 

Jose Antonio Ibarra
Jose Antonio Ibarra

Authorities arrested Jose Antonio Ibarra on Friday in connection with Riley's murder. The 26-year-old Venezuelan national entered the country illegally in September 2022 through El Paso, Texas. Ibarra was reportedly released due to a lack of detention space. 

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A friend of Riley's family released a statement that thanked law enforcement for their efforts, Fox News reported Sunday.

"We wish to thank the public for their prayers and thoughts during this tragic time. We thank the University of GA Police Department, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the Clarke County District Attorney's Office, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for their quick response, and diligent effort in the investigation and arrest of those individual(s) responsible for our daughter's death," the statement said.

"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 family continued. 

Riley's family requested privacy as they mourn, noting that her life was "tragically cut short." 

According to a Saturday Fox News report, the brother of the suspect accused of Riley's murder was fired from his job in the University of Georgia dining hall. As UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor told the outlet, Diego Ibarra presented a fake green card to begin a temporary job as a dishwasher in the school's dining hall on Feb. 6, 2024. 

Diego Ibarra failed to "submit further documentation required to keep the job and was never paid by the University" before he was "fired," according to the spokesperson. Diego Ibarra has been arrested and charged with green card fraud.

"An Athens-Clarke County Police Department (ACCPD) officer approached Ibarra earlier today because he matched the description of a suspect in the homicide investigation," a Monday statement from the U.S. Department of Justice reads. "Ibarra presented the officer with a U.S. permanent resident card (also called a green card) as identification. The card was determined to be fraudulent. Ibarra is a citizen of Venezuela and was processed for expedited removal but claimed a credible fear of return to Venezuela. He was consequently released from immigration custody pending adjudication of his claim for asylum on April 30, 2023."

Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp wrote a letter Saturday to President Joe Biden in response to the nursing student's death and the news about the murder suspect's brother. In his statement, Kemp referred to Riley's death as a "devastating tragedy" and criticized the Biden administration's border policies amid a record influx of illegal immigration. 

The governor demanded answers regarding why his administration was not informed of the immigration status of the suspect in Riley's murder. Kemp questioned why his administration was not informed of the release of an illegal resident who presented "fraudulent asylum claims."

Kemp stated that the Biden administration must publicly provide answers to these questions "as soon as possible" to ensure state and local officials can keep their communities safe. 

 "These tragedies are not unique to Georgia," Kemp wrote. "While we will continue to support Texas with National Guard resources as we have since 2019, federal action to secure the border is the only way to wholistically address this ongoing crisis and ensure Laken Riley's horrible fate is not replicated across the country." 

The governor concluded that if Biden continues to "refuse to exercise [his] authority as president," then his administration must provide Georgia and other states with the "information necessary" to protect citizens. 

In September, Kemp joined 24 other governors in writing a letter to the president requesting "accurate, detailed, thorough data and information" related to illegal border crossings, the processing of asylum claims, and other immigration issues. 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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