Illegal Immigrant With Criminal History Charged In Murder Of Georgia University Student

[Screenshot/YouTube/Fox 5 Atlanta]

Hailey Gomez General Assignment Reporter
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An illegal immigrant with a criminal history record was arrested and charged Friday in connection to the murder of a nursing student who was found on the University of Georgia (UGA) campus, officials confirmed.

The UGA police department held a press conference Friday night revealing that immigrant Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, a resident of Athens, Georgia, was arrested in connection to the murder of Augusta University nursing student Laken Riley. Riley, 22, was found dead at the UGA campus Thursday. Authorities released few details as the investigation is ongoing, but said Ibarra has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another. (RELATED: REPORT: University Of Georgia Student Goes For Run, Ends Up Missing. Police Find Her Dead On Intramural Field)

While UGA Chief of Police Jeff Clark stated Friday night that officials were unaware of his status, early reports indicated Ibarra was an illegal immigrant from Venezuela.

“Right now I don’t know his full status, but he is not a [resident]. He has an apartment here in Athens, but as far as an undocumented, I’m not sure and that hasn’t been confirmed,” UGA Chief of Police Jeff Clark stated.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a press statement Sunday confirming Ibarra’s illegal status and criminal background. The Venezuelan immigrant was arrested Sept. 8, 2022 by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) after he had “unlawfully” entered the U.S. near El Paso, Texas, according to the statement.

While Ibarra was “paroled and released for further processing” he was later arrested Aug. 31, 2023 by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17, as well as receiving a motor vehicle license violation. NYPD officials released Ibarra before a detainer could be issued, ICE stated.

Authorities have found no relationship between Riley and Ibarra and the alleged attack is believed to be a “crime of opportunity,” Clark said. Riley died from “blunt force trauma,” according to Clark, but no other information was released by officials.

“The investigation suggests that they had no relationship. He did not know her at all. I think this was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual and bad things happen,” Clark stated.

Before becoming a nursing student at Augusta University, Riley attended UGA until 2023; both schools are located in Athens, Georgia, according to CNN. A friend of Riley’s notified UGA authorities Thursday around noon that the nursing student went for a run and never returned. Following search and rescue operations performed by officials, police found a student’s body “unconscious and not breathing” with “visible injuries” behind Lake Herrick near the intramural fields, according to the university. The recovered body was later identified as Riley, the university confirmed.

The school released a statement on its website which claimed “foul play” was suspected and pledged to work with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Athens-Clarke County Police Department as the investigation continued.

Ibarra has since appeared in court and was held on no bail. ICE officials also confirmed the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Atlanta has since lodged a detainer against Ibarra following his recent arrest.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to include a statement issued Sunday from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirming the suspect’s status and background.