Independent. Uncensored. | Investigative Reports from US and around the world.

FEATURED STORIES, news, Politics, U.S.

Laken Riley’s Murder Fuels U.S. immigration Debate for 2024 Presidential race

Laken Riley's Murder

Laken Riley's Murder by an illegal alien has sparked outrage and has become part of the 2024 presidential debate

Posted: March 15, 2024 at 8:39 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

On the morning of February 22, 2024, college nursing student Laken Riley laced up her tennis shoes to jog around the running trails near the intramural fields at the University of Georgia. 

The 22-year-old student was enrolled in Augusta University’s nursing program and liked to start her day jogging at nearby UGA, where she was once a student. 

The young woman had the world in front of her. Riley was active in her local church community, close to her family and friends, and enjoyed exercising in nature. She was also a proud member of her sorority. 

According to friends and family, Riley dedicated her life to becoming a nurse and helping others, and she was excited about her future. 

When the young woman set out to run that morning, she had no idea that a predator was lurking nearby. 

She had no idea that it would be her last run. 

“Laken showed devotion with every aspect of her life,” said Chloe Mullis, president of the University of Georgia chapter of Alpha Chi Omega, during a vigil for Riley. “Doing things halfway just wasn’t an option. We lost one of the brightest lights that has ever been.”


Laken Riley didn’t know that morning that a Venezuelan migrant named Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, was living nearby and soon spotted her jogging. 

Leading up to this moment, Ibarra had crossed the border into Texas in Sept. 2022 and later arrived in New York City, where he was arrested by police on August 31, 2023. He was charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and with a motor vehicle license violation. 

Ibarra later fled to Athens, Georgia, where his brother lived. 

According to court documents, the pair got caught shoplifting at Walmart on October 27, 2023. The men were arrested, given citations, and released. 

A few months later, authorities say, Ibarra spotted Riley jogging that morning and attacked her. 

He later dragged her body into a secluded wooded area near UGA’s intramural fields and brutally and ruthlessly killed her.

The trails along Lake Herrick, where Riley’s body was found, were considered a safe and peaceful area that was popular among students. 

Perhaps what surprised people the most was the murder happened in broad daylight. 

According to arrest affidavits, the suspect used an object as a weapon in the crime, and he’s also accused of “disfiguring her skull.” 

Police haven’t said exactly how she was killed, only that the cause of death was blunt force trauma. 

UGA Police Chief Jeffrey L. Clark called it a “crime of opportunity.” He said the murder was committed by “an individual who woke up with bad intentions.” 

According to Clark, there is no evidence that Ibarra and Riley knew each other. 

According to the warrants, Riley was killed between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Feb. 22. The warrants say Ibarra “physically” prevented the young woman from making or completing a 911 call and used an “object” to cause great bodily harm. 

The warrants also indicate he dragged her from the intramural fields to a secluded area and concealed her death.

Clark mentioned that police utilized footage from campus security cameras along with physical evidence to link the suspect to Riley’s murder. 

Additionally, authorities carried out a search warrant at the suspect’s apartment.

Police acted with remarkable speed. After Riley failed to show up from her run, a roommate called authorities around noon, and they found her a short time later. Investigators found the jogger’s body around 12:30 p.m. in an area tucked behind the lake. 

Emergency medical responders determined she died before officers found her. 

Just a few hours later, Athens detectives pulled a photo from a surveillance camera of a potential suspect wearing a distinctive Adidas hat, according to a federal affidavit from The Associated Press. 

Their investigation eventually directed them to an off-campus apartment complex, where they combed through the premises and a nearby dumpster, gradually uncovering information about Ibarra. 

He faces several charges including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another. 

In an Instagram post, Riley’s sister, Lauren Phillips, said that Laken was “the best sister and my built-in best friend from the very first second.” 

“This isn’t fair, and I will never understand it, but I know you are in heaven with the man you loved most right now,” Phillips wrote. “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this but it’s all going to be for you from now on. I cannot wait to give you the biggest hug someday. I will miss and love you forever Laken.”

Since then, Laken Riley’s murder has erupted into a political firestorm across the nation and riled up lawmakers because of Ibarra’s legal status. 


According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleged killer Jose Ibarra was detained by the Border Patrol on Sept. 8, 2022, after entering from Mexico near El Paso, Texas. 

However, after less than 24 hours in custody, he was released on parole and given free rein in the United States until October 2024, according to a bombshell report by The New York Post. 

After his release, Ibarra traveled to New York City to live in a shelter provided by the city and seemed to enjoy life.  

ICE also reported that Ibarra was arrested by New York police on Aug. 31, 2023, and charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and with a motor vehicle license violation. 

He was released before ICE could ask New York officials to hold him until immigration authorities could take him into custody, ICE said. New York officials said they had no record of the arrest in late February.

From there, it’s believed Ibarra fled to Georgia, where his brother lived. 

A few months after his arrival, Riley was killed.


During the police search, Ibarra’s brother, 29-year-old Diego Ibarra, was arrested for having a fraudulent green card. 

Documents submitted by the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia said Diego Ibarra should be detained because of the “risk that he will flee the jurisdiction of the Court and the danger that he poses to the safety of persons and the community.” 

The documents detail his arrest after Riley’s death, several previous run-ins with the law and his potential affiliation with a Venezuelan gang.

According to new court documents, Diego was arrested on Feb. 23 as part of the investigation surrounding Riley’s death. According to the filing, he was approached by a police officer and asked if he had an ID. 

Diego did not have his ID and took the officer to his apartment. The officer immediately recognized the ID as a fake “due to its poor quality and the fact that the ID listed two different birth dates for Ibarra,” the document says.

Ibarra’s arrest revealed a “lengthy history of encounters with immigration officials,” according to the documents. According to the filing, he attempted to enter the United States illegally twice in April 2023. The documents say he first tried on April 3 near Eagle Pass, Texas, but was caught and returned to Mexico.

He tried again on April 30. When Customs and Border Protection tried to arrest Diego, the documents say he attempted to bite the agent. Officials said Diego later admitted to trying to avoid arrest “at any cost.” He was not prosecuted for the incident.

Diego was taken to a medical center after he complained of chest pains. The documents said on May 11, 2023, he was placed in an “Alternatives to Detention” program and released the following day.

The documents say Diego was required to wear a monitoring device but that the device had been cut off by May 25. The device was found near Littleton, Colorado, and Ibarra eventually made his way to Athens, “where he had frequent contact with local law enforcement officers.”

The filing says Diego had three run-ins with the police before his arrest in February. He was arrested for DUI, domestic violence and two shoplifting offenses with Jose Ibarra. 

All of this took place leading up to Riley’s death, which is why many lawmakers have centered on her death. 

According to the court filings, On October 27, 2023, ACCPD officers were dispatched to the Walmart in Athens about a reported shoplifting committed by two males. 

The two males were observed stuffing items into bookbags and boarding a bus near the Walmart. An off-duty officer was able to locate the two males, identified as Diego Ibarra and his brother, Jose. Inside a bookbag in Jose’s possession, officers located items of food taken from Walmart. 

Inside Diego’s backpack, officers located stolen t-shirts, shorts, hoodies, and a jacket. 

In total, both men were found to have taken over $200 in merchandise from Walmart.

The men were given citations and released. 

Less than two months later, Diego was again arrested for shoplifting from the same Walmart store in Athens. He was ordered to stay away. Both men remained free. 


Also, according to government documents, it’s believed that the men were members of Tren de Aragua (TdA). This Venezuelan gang has been involved in recent violent confrontations with law enforcement and civilian victims in New York and other states. 

The affidavit says, “TdA was formed in the mid to late 2000s in the Tocorón prison in the Venezuelan state of Aragua. 

Multiple U.S. law enforcement agencies have reported a heavy presence of TdA members in several states, particularly Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida, and Georgia. The documents claim Diego has tattoos that identify him as a member of the gang and participated in activities “common in the gang culture.”

Diego has “a five-pointed crown tattoo on the left side of his neck, and five-pointed stars on the right side of his neck.” According to the documents, five-pointed crowns and stars are common motifs on TdA tattoos.

According to the documents, TdA also frequently wears Chicago Bulls gear. The filing includes several images of Diego in Bulls gear, flashing gang signs and social media pictures of him holding guns. 

With the 2024 election season in full swing, it’s clear that Riley’s murder will be front and center as a political rallying point for both Democrats and Republicans. 

How the brothers remained members of society will be a crucial debate topic for lawmakers on both sides of the political lines. 

Long before Riley’s death, border security was already a hotly debated topic heading into the 2024 U.S. presidential election season. 

Riley’s killing is “gonna change this election as much as anything,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said after her death. 


Just last week, President Joe Biden clashed with lawmakers during Thursday night’s State of the Union speech, and the president later held up a pin with Riley’s name on it as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green blurted from the gallery: “Say her name!”

Biden bungled her name in the process, “Lincoln — Lincoln Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal – that’s right. But how many thousands of people [are] being killed by illegals?” Biden said.

Biden, who lost his first wife and since then two of his children, empathized with the family and, midway through his speech, called on Congress to pass legislation to secure the border and modernize the country’s outdated immigration laws, praising the bipartisan effort that collapsed when Trump opposed it. 

Biden urged Congress to work together to pass a border security compromise. 

“Get this done!” President Biden exclaimed. 

In an interview with MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart over the weekend, Biden said he regretted using the term “illegal” during his State of the Union address to describe Riley’s suspected killer. 

“I shouldn’t have used illegal – it’s undocumented,” Biden told Capehart. 

Meanwhile, Trump fired back on the campaign trail in Rome, Georgia: “Joe Biden went on television and apologized for calling Laken’s murderer an illegal. Biden should be apologizing for apologizing to this killer.”

The exchanges highlighted the significance of Laken Riley’s murder as a pivotal issue in the 2024 campaign, serving as a rallying point for Republicans. They have capitalized on public discontent with the Biden administration’s management of the US-Mexico border amidst a historic influx of migrants.

Riley’s parents and friends joined Trump at his rally and met with them before taking the stage. 

Trump said that Riley “would be alive today if Joe Biden had not willfully and maliciously eviscerated the borders of the United States and set loose thousands and thousands of dangerous criminals into our country.” 

Earlier this year, Biden went against some activists in his party and agreed to alter the U.S. immigration law to restrict certain forms of migration. The resulting deal aimed to revamp the asylum system for quicker and stricter enforcement, granting presidents enhanced authority to promptly remove migrants in case of overwhelming situations. 

Additionally, the deal proposed a substantial increase of $20 billion in funding.

Speaking to Capehart, Biden said, “Look, when I spoke about the difference between Trump and me, one of the things I talked about in the border was his, the way he talks about vermin, the way he talks about these people polluting the blood. I talked about what I’m not going to do. What I won’t do. I’m not going to treat any, any, any of these people with disrespect. Look, they built the country.”


In early March 2024, the House passed the Laken Riley Act (251-137), with all GOP members in attendance, plus 37 Democrats supporting the bill. 

Republican Representative Mike Collins of Georgia introduced legislation mandating the detention of migrants who have committed burglary or theft.

Meanwhile, 170 Democrats voted against the bill, accusing Republicans of “exploiting her death for a partisan stunt” and “throwing together legislation to target immigrants in an election year.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) pushed back on the legislation on MSNBC’s “The Reid Out,” noting that Congress already has a bipartisan deal on border-related issues.

“Let me, first of all, just say that my heart goes out to this young woman’s family. Laken Riley did not deserve what happened to her,” he said.

“To answer your question succinctly, this is smoke and mirrors by people who are not serious. We had a bipartisan piece of legislation in front of us. It had many provisions, some that some folks on my side didn’t like. But the only way to get comprehensive immigration reform, the only way to address the current crisis on the border in a divided government, is on a bipartisan basis,” he added.

While the political debate continues, Ibarra remains in the Athens-Clarke County Jail. 

In a Feb. 28 court filing, a public defender representing Ibarra said he was not seeking bond for the time being.

In the meantime, friends and family are mourning the death of a young woman who had a promising future ahead of her. 

Riley’s obituary says, “Laken loved nursing and caring for others, this passion led her to attend the University of Georgia and then later begin a nursing program at the Augusta Medical College’s campus in Athens. Her smile was extremely infectious, and she spread joy to others everywhere she went. She was devoted to serving the Lord. She was always involved with church, Woodstock City Church and Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Her love for spreading God’s word led her to attend mission trips through the church. Her love for the Lord was exemplified in every aspect of her life.”

The family also wrote, “Laken was an amazing daughter, sister, friend and an overall extraordinary person. She will be missed every day, but we promise to honor her life moving forward in a very big way.”

Newsletter subscribe
giweather WordPress widget