Police have no suspect in the death of nursing student on University of Georgia campus

Feb 23, 2024



ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Police said Friday that they have identified and are questioning a “person of interest” in the death of a nursing student found dead on the University of Georgia campus after not returning from a run.

There “continues to be an active, ongoing investigation” by university police and other agencies into the death of 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley, University of Georgia spokesperson James Hataway said in a statement. Riley was a student at the Augusta University College of Nursing’s Athens campus.

Her body was found Thursday afternoon after a friend told police she had not returned from a morning run, authorities said. She was unconscious and had “visible injuries” when officers found her, the University of Georgia Police Department said. Officials have classified the death as a homicide and said they were checking security cameras and advising students to travel in groups and avoid the wooded area where her body was found.

Riley had studied at the University of Georgia through the spring of 2023 before transferring to Augusta University’s College of Nursing, according to a statement from the University of Georgia, which does not have a nursing program itself. She remained active in the sorority she had joined at the University of Georgia.

Riley graduated in 2020 from River Ridge High School in Woodstock, a suburb northwest of Atlanta, where she ran cross country.

“Our community and our world lost a shining light with the tragic passing of Laken,” Cherokee County schools Superintendent Brian Hightower said in a statement. “An outstanding scholar athlete, Laken inspired classmates and teachers with her love of learning and her kindness to all. We ask that the community please keep her family in their hearts.”

AP correspondent Shelley Adler reports on a woman found dead on the University of Georgia campus.

The University of Georgia Police Department on Thursday at approximately 12:07 p.m. “received a call from a friend of Laken’s who was concerned that she had gone to run at the intramural fields earlier in the morning and had not returned as expected,” a police statement said.

Officers immediately began a search and found her body in a forested area near Lake Herrick that includes trails popular with runners and walkers.

“Officers immediately began rendering medical aid. Emergency medical responders determined that she was deceased upon their arrival,” a police statement said.

The area is close to the University of Georgia’s intramural fields, and only a little farther from a large dormitory complex mostly occupied by freshmen. The University of Georgia has 41,000 students, mostly in Athens, dominating Athens-Clarke County, which has about 129,000 residents in the consolidated city-county.

The University of Georgia Police Department, along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, are conducting the investigation.

University of Georgia Police Chief Jeff Clark noted that there has not been a homicide on campus in the last 20 years.

“We’re not going to leave any rock unturned in this investigation,” he said.

The University of Georgia canceled classes Friday. Augusta University canceled classes at its Athens campus but said it will remain open as a gathering place for students, faculty and staff.

The death “hits a little too close to home,” said Veronica Bennett, the mother of a University of Georgia student. She’s part of a group of moms pushing for security improvements on campus that go beyond the school’s safety app, WSB-TV reported.

Athens-Clarke County police block traffic and investigate at the UGA intramural Fields after the body of a women was found with found in the woods around Lake Herrick in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Athens-Clarke County police block traffic and investigate at the UGA intramural Fields after the body of a women was found with found in the woods around Lake Herrick in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

“As a parent, I get tired of that being UGA’s go-to. Oh, we have the safety app. Well, the safety app is not much of a deterrent,” Bennett told the Atlanta TV station.

Students at the university were already on edge after a male student was found dead in his dorm room Wednesday and an armed robbery took place in the center of campus on the night of Feb. 16. University of Georgia police said Thursday there was no reason to believe the incidents were connected to Riley’s death.

Murder is relatively rate in Athens, with the city averaging 6 murders per year, a murder rate that’s about half Georgia’s statewide average. But Athens-Clarke crime statistics show other types of crime with rates above Georgia’s statewide average, including aggravated assault, burglary, rape and motor vehicle theft.

The University of Georgia has grown steadily, creating housing and gentrification pressures in a city where many nonstudent residents are less affluent. The university, in the meantime, has grown more elite as the state’s population has swelled. Georgia has a lottery-funded scholarship program that pays the full cost of tuition for more than 80% of University of Georgia students, making it an attractive destination for top in-state students.


Amy reported from Atlanta.

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