Laken Riley’s pastor recalls her ‘special faith in Jesus’: 'She didn’t just believe it’

Laken Riley Memorial fundraiser on GoFundMe
Laken Riley Memorial fundraiser on GoFundMe | Laken Riley Memorial/GoFundMe

The Woodstock City Church community came together to bid farewell to Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student at Augusta University, whose life was tragically cut short near the university’s intramural fields in Athens, Georgia. Lead Pastor Samer Massad remembered Riley for her kindness, intelligence and compassion, and whose faith in Jesus was not merely a belief but a way of life.

“Laken was special. She was a gift to anyone who knew her,” Massad told the mourners gathering, as reported by 11 Alive.

“She had a gift for making anyone she was around feel comfortable and seen,” the pastor added. “But the most special thing about Laken was her faith in Jesus. She didn’t just believe it, she lived it. And because of her faith, as hard as days like today are, we grieve her loss and celebrate her life with the hope that she is now in the presence of Jesus, her Savior. We will miss her dearly.”

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The circumstances surrounding Riley’s death have ignited a firestorm of debate and controversy, particularly regarding immigration policies and public safety.

The accused, Jose Antonio Ibarra, a Venezuelan national who entered the United States illegally, is charged with causing Riley’s death through blunt force trauma, an act that not only ended a promising life but also raised questions about the Biden administration's illegal immigration policies.  

Court documents revealed the brutal nature of the attack, which occurred in broad daylight, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Feb. 22. The documents detail how Ibarra allegedly disfigured Riley’s skull with an object before dragging her body to a secluded location, compounding the murder charge with the concealment of her death.

Ibarra had previous encounters with law enforcement, including a shoplifting incident, which raises concerns about the oversight and management of individuals with illegal status within the community.

The University of Georgia announced a significant investment in campus safety measures totaling $7.3 million, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. These measures include an expanded police budget and the installation of emergency call boxes, a direct response to the heightened concern for student and community safety following Riley’s murder.

Amid the grief and mourning, Riley’s family has expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of support from the community and law enforcement. In a statement, they remembered Laken as an “amazing daughter, sister, friend, and overall person” whose love for the Lord was evident in every aspect of her life.

The political ramifications of Riley’s death have been significant, with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp writing a letter to President Joe Biden, critiquing the administration’s border policies and their implications for public safety. Kemp’s letter demands answers and accountability, highlighting the broader national debate on immigration policy and its enforcement.

In an op-ed in The Christian Post, Suzanne Bowdey, editorial director and senior writer for The Washington Stand, wrote: “Like the millions of other people Joe Biden let across the border, Ibarra was bussed deep into New York City, where he was released to commit crime after crime. Each time he was arrested, he was let go. Now, an innocent young nursing student — with her whole life ahead of her — has paid for it.”

The sanctuary city policies of Athens have come under scrutiny, with Mayor Kelly Girtz facing criticism from residents who believe these policies contributed to Riley’s death.

Girtz was heckled by area residents during a Wednesday press conference for defending sanctuary city policies they believe contributed to Riley's death. 

“Please stop it. This is an invasion!” an audience member shouted, according to The Daily Caller. “When I was younger, I was a criminal and you know what I thought about doing? Crossing the border to Mexico to get away from my crimes. Thanks to Jesus Christ, He saved me and I no longer live that lawless life, but you do. You are lawless, Mr. Mayor.

Since Biden took office, law enforcement officials at the Southwest border have encountered more than 7 million illegal immigrants. The number of illegal immigrants who have entered the country in that time period exceeds the populations of 37 U.S. states, as measured in the 2020 U.S. Census. 

Reports have also surfaced that Ibarra’s brother, Diego, had presented a fake green card to begin a temporary job as a dishwasher in the University of Georgia’s dining hall on Feb. 6. Diego was fired from his job and subsequently arrested and charged with green card fraud.

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