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Tribute held for slain Georgia nursing student as lawmakers debate

Georgia lawmakers passed a bill to allow police to detain those suspected of being undocumented after the suspect entered the U.S. illegally.
Tribute held for slain Georgia nursing student as lawmakers debate
Posted at 5:50 PM, Mar 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-02 19:50:40-05

Hundreds of mourners lined up at a church outside Atlanta to pay respects to the family of Laken Riley, the nursing student who was found slain after she went out for a morning jog on the University of Georgia campus.

A funeral service for 22-year-old Riley followed a visitation in Cherokee County, where Riley lived before graduating from high school in Atlanta's northern suburbs. A long line formed outside the visitation at Woodstock City Church, where a slideshow of photos played on TV screens inside the large church's auditorium — Riley on a beach, at a football game, wearing a Bulldogs jersey.

Some people dabbed away tears as they passed by the casket, which was at the front of the auditorium and flanked by photos of Riley and flower bouquets. The funeral service was not open to the media, and reporters were asked to wait outside on a sidewalk.

The ceremony included tributes from family, said David Milan, who attended the event and said he was an accountant for Riley family.

"I've known her since she was a baby," he said afterward in the church parking lot.

Riley was enrolled in the Augusta Medical College's nursing program in Athens when police found her dead on Feb. 22 at the neighboring University of Georgia's campus. A friend called police after Riley left to go running and didn't come home.

SEE MORE: Student's murder fueling immigration debate among Georgia lawmakers

The killing shocked Riley's fellow students in Athens, where more than 41,000 attend UGA and another 210 are enrolled in the medical program where Riley studied nursing. Police arrested a suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, on murder charges the day after Riley was murdered in a forested area with trails for running and walking.

In the wake of her killing by the suspect, a Venezuelan citizen who entered the U.S. illegally, Georgia's state House passed a bill that would allow police to arrest anyone suspected of being in the country undocumented. House Bill 1105 would allow police to arrest anyone with probable cause who are suspected of being in the U.S. unlawfully and would allow law enforcement to detain them and prepare them for deportation.

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

Riley "loved nursing and caring for others," according to her obituary from Poole Funeral Home. She had remained active in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority at UGA, where she studied before enrolling in the nursing school.

Riley is survived by her birth parents, 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 very 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 said, "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."


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