UGA Murder Suspect Had No Prior Connection to Victim, Killing Deemed ‘Crime of Opportunity,’ Authorities Confirm

The suspect charged with murder in the death of a nursing student on the University of Georgia campus didn’t know her and had no affiliation with UGA, officials said.

At this time the investigation suggests that they had no (prior) relationship. He did not know her at all,” Clark said. “I think this was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual and bad things happened.” Credit: Clarke County Sheriff’s Office Credit: Clarke County Sheriff’s Office Clark provided updates Friday night in the Tate Center in Athens, the day after Riley was found dead in the woods.

Investigators believe she died from blunt force trauma. “This is heartbreaking,” he said. “This is a heartbreaking time for the university.” Just before the press conference started, four UGA students entered the room to hear the updates. “Y’all are students, right? Y’all can come in,” former UGA police Chief Jimmy Williamson said. “You have the right to be here and hear this.”

Clark said video cameras helped lead to the arrest, along with work of various law enforcement agencies, including Athens-Clarke County Police and the GBI. “Importantly, we were assisted by video footage from our campus security cameras network, which have proven vital in many cases,” Clark said. Later Friday, federal prosecutors announced they had charged Ibarra’s brother, Diego Ibarra, with possessing a fraudulent U.S. permanent resident card. Both men are from Venezuela, the Justice Department said in a press release. A spokesperson later noted she did not have information about Jose Ibarra’s immigration status.

Homeland Security Investigations became aware of Diego Ibarra’s undocumented presence in the U.S. on Friday when an Athens-Clarke County police officer approached him because he matched the description of a suspect in the homicide investigation. Diego Ibarra presented the officer with a U.S. green card that was fake, according to the Justice Department. Credit: Jason Getz Credit: Jason Getz Riley was found near the East Campus intramural fields on Thursday, hours after she left for a run.

A friend calls UGA police when Riley didn’t return. Officers were dispatched to the area and soon located Riley’s body in a wooded area behind Lake Herrick. She had visible injuries and investigators later determined she had been the victim of foul play. By Thursday afternoon, other police agencies had been called in to assist with the investigation. “Whenever someone is victimized in Clarke County, we have a lot of resources that can pull together and get results like this,” Clarke County Sheriff John Q. Williams said Friday night.

Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University’s nursing program in Athens and made the fall 2023 dean’s list . She was an undergraduate student at UGA until the spring of 2023. The death shocked the UGA campus, were Riley remained an active member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. It was the first homicide on campus in at least 20 years, according to university officials. Riley’s death prompted school leaders to cancel classes Thursday evening and Friday.

Meanwhile, investigators from various law enforcement agencies spent much of Friday at a South Milledge Drive apartment complex. Others were questioned in the case, Clark said. But only Ibarra will be charged, he said. Clark reiterated that investigators don’t have a possible motive. Ibarra has a criminal history, but it does not include violence. “This was an individual who woke up with bad intentions on that day,” Clark said. The student death was the second in less than 24 hours on campus.

Late Wednesday, another student was found dead in Brumby Hall, but no foul play was suspected. The two deaths were not related. Classes are expected to resume at UGA on Monday. Two student Greek organizations, Alpha Chi Omega and Kappa Sigma, are jointly hosting a vigil at Tate Plaza that afternoon at 3 p.m. The service is open to the campus community.

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