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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Suspect in killing at University of Georgia is denied bond as a shaken campus mourns

Students walk on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Ga., Sept. 25, 2014. A man charged with kidnapping and murdering a nursing student at the university will remain in jail after he was denied bond at a hearing Saturday, authorities said. (Nick Dentamaro/The New York Times)

By Adeel Hassan, Eileen Sullivan and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

A 26-year-old man charged with kidnapping and murdering a nursing student at the University of Georgia in Athens will remain in jail after he was denied bond at a hearing Saturday, authorities said.

The suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, lived in an apartment complex about 1 mile from a wooded trail where the body of Laken Riley, 22, was found Thursday afternoon, said Jeffrey Clark, the chief of university police. Riley, a student at nearby Augusta University and a former student at the University of Georgia, had been reported missing by friends after she did not return from a run.

Ibarra, a resident of Athens who is not a U.S. citizen, migrated to the United States from Venezuela, authorities said. He was arrested by the Border Patrol for crossing the border illegally in September 2022 and was released quickly with temporary permission to stay in the country, a federal law enforcement official said Saturday. That release, or parole, was a practice the administration used when officials were overwhelmed with high numbers of crossings. The administration ended that practice about six months later.

It was typical for many Venezuelans to be released with permission to stay temporarily because they could not be repatriated back to their country due to strained diplomatic relations. Some 6 million Venezuelans have fled their troubled country, the largest population displacement in Latin America’s modern history.

On Saturday, it was not clear what Ibarra’s immigration status was.

Many conservative politicians, including Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, on Saturday linked the killing to the immigration policies of President Joe Biden, which they contend have overwhelmed the country with more migrants than the system can handle. Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House, urged the president to close the border.

“House Republicans will continue to fight tooth and nail for a return to law and order,” Johnson said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

On Friday, the Justice Department said that Ibarra had a brother, Diego Ibarra, 29, who was also from Venezuela and who had been charged with possessing a fake green card.

Authorities said the suspect and Riley did not know each other, characterizing the killing as “a crime of opportunity,” and that Riley died by “blunt force trauma.” Jose Ibarra is also charged with aggravated assault, false imprisonment, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another person. It was unclear Saturday whether Ibarra had any legal representation.

At the apartment complex listed as the address for the suspect, one resident, Manuel Alcides, 26, said there were many Venezuelan migrants living in the building. Alcides, who is also from Venezuela, said that he regularly spoke with a handful of the migrants, but none of them knew Ibarra or his brother, whose listed address was nearby, or were aware of when they had arrived.

“It’s a danger for our community because society will look at this error and think the rest of us could be a threat,” Alcides said of the killing. “But we’re not all the same.”

Mayor Kelly Girtz of Athens said that the killing was clearly affecting everyone.

“As a parent myself of a child who is walking the streets of this town every day, it is so difficult to see these kinds of experiences happen,” he said. “And so I’m feeling for the family of the young woman in question and all of her friends and loved ones.”

In posts on Instagram, Riley’s friends described her as a great friend, student and roommate, who loved running, dancing and singing, and who had an infectious laugh.

Bianca Tiller, Riley’s freshman-year roommate, told The New York Times that Riley “lit up every room she walked into and brought a smile on everyone’s face.”

“She was the first to gather us up to study together and go on coffee runs,” Tiller said. “She built so many friendships and relationships, which we are all forever grateful for and will use to honor her amazing spirit.”

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