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Family, friends gather to say goodbye to slain nursing student Laken Riley

Jeremy Redmon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

WOODSTOCK, Ga. — A motorcade featuring a white hearse, police cars with flashing blue lights and more than two dozen other vehicles slowly pulled out of the Woodstock City Church parking lot under a steady rain at about 4 p.m. Friday.

Mourners gathered inside the large sanctuary to remember Laken Hope Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student who was killed last week on the campus of the University of Georgia after going out for a run. Authorities have charged Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing Riley’s death.

“When the world loses someone like Laken, whose light consistently shined so bright, it seems that much darker in their absence,” Samer Massad, the church’s lead pastor, said in a written statement. “Laken was special. She was a gift to anyone who knew her. Smart, kind, compassionate, and thoughtful don’t even begin to scratch the surface.”

The Riley family requested that media not be present at Friday’s visitation and funeral.

The tributes for those who knew Riley have been made publicly and privately in the days since her killing. A vigil was held Monday at UGA for Riley and Wyatt Sean Banks, 19, a UGA student who died last week.

River Ridge High School, Riley’s alma mater in Woodstock, held a moment of silence for her this week. She graduated in 2020 from River Ridge, where students wore red and black, a nod to her time studying at the University of Georgia. There are discussions underway about memorializing her with a plaque in the school’s stadium.


Mourners have posted dozens of comments below her obituary online, praising Riley and expressing sympathy for her family. Some are purchasing memorial trees to be planted in her name.

Mary Bisgrove, one of Riley’s cross-country coaches at River Ridge, emphasized Riley’s selflessness, calling her a “giver” in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She recalled how Riley, who was dealing with an injury, voluntarily gave up her spot running in Georgia’s cross-country finals in Carrollton in 2019 so a healthier teammate could compete.

“But she still attended. She still cheered on her teammates,” said Bisgrove, who teaches biology at River Ridge. “And they did very well that year and she supported them the whole way. It was sweet.”

Keith Hooper, another coach, remembered Riley as a “super kind person, an individual who was there to help people, help her teammates, help her classmates.”


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