Mourners to gather for the funeral of a slain Georgia nursing student who loved caring for others

WOODSTOCK, Ga. — Family, friends and classmates planned to gather Friday at a church outside Atlanta to say goodbye to Laken Riley, the nursing student found murdered after going for a morning jog on the University of Georgia campus.

A funeral service for Riley, 22, was scheduled to follow a visit Friday afternoon at Woodstock City Church in Cherokee County, where Riley lived before graduating from high school in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

Riley was enrolled in the nursing program at Augusta Medical College in Athens when police found her dead on the neighboring University of Georgia campus on February 22. A friend called the police after Riley left for a run and didn’t come home.

The killing shocked Riley’s fellow students in Athens, where more than 41,000 students attend UGA and another 210 students attend the medical school where Riley studied nursing. Police arrested a suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, on murder charges the day after Riley was killed in a wooded area with hiking and running trails.

Riley “loved caring and nurturing others,” according to her obituary from Poole Funeral Home. She had remained active in the AXO sorority at UGA, where she studied before enrolling in nursing school.

In addition to her parents, Riley is survived by her stepfather, two sisters and a brother. One of her siblings, Lauren Phillips, posted on social media that Riley “was the best sister and my built-in best friend from the first second.”

“This isn’t fair and I will never understand it, but I know you are in heaven,” Phillips wrote on Instagram after her sister’s death. She added, “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this, but from now on it will all be yours.” I can’t wait to give you the biggest hug ever.

Ibarra is a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case, bringing the killing to the forefront of the U.S. debate over immigration, a top issue in the 2024 presidential campaign.