Home News Crime of opportunity: Illegal Venezuela immigrant arrested for killing Georgia college student

Crime of opportunity: Illegal Venezuela immigrant arrested for killing Georgia college student

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Fletcher Page
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The distance between the apartment where the accused killer lived and where the college student was found dead is less than half a mile, connected by a network of trails through woods.

Behind the Cielo Azulyk apartment complex, which authorities say Jose Antonio Ibarra called home, a paved walkway leads to a dirt path that leads to train tracks. On the other side, a narrow dirt path leads to the University of Georgia’s intramural exercise trails, where Laken Hope Riley’s body was discovered Thursday.

Police on Friday arrested Ibarra, 26, on murder charges after Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student and avid runner, went out for a run Thursday morning and didn’t come home.

Jennifer Slonaker said she has lived at the apartments since October. She said Saturday that she had seen Riley before, running on the South Milledge Avenue sidewalk in front of the complex and cutting through the complex.

Slonaker said she also had seen Ibarra, and his brother Diego, who also was arrested Friday, on a different charge for allegedly having a fraudulent U.S. permanent resident card. The brothers are from Venezuela, and lived in the apartment complex, according to authorities.

Slonaker said both men were friendly.

“They were a little flamboyant and loud,” she added. “They didn’t seem to have respect for anybody, but other than that they seemed to be OK.”

On Saturday, a man walked the route from the apartments to Lake Herrick, located near the front of UGA’s intramural fields. He said his daughter, a UGA student who lives on South Milledge, often makes the trek and uses the cut-through behind the apartments.

“I wanted to do this, just to see what my daughter does,” said the man, who did not wish to be identified. “She does this all the time, sometimes without her phone.”

A police officer was seen walking the trails Saturday. There were numerous runners, a man and his young son, and others walking dogs.

The route between the complex and the intramural fields includes a trail hugging a small pond to a packed-gravel road that enters a wooded area with mostly chestnut oaks and a few magnolias.

Police on Friday arrested Ibarra, charging him with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another.

UGA police Chief Jeffrey Clark told reporters Friday night that Ibarra and Riley did not appear to know each other.

“I think this was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual and bad things happened,” said Clark.

Riley’s suspected homicide and a heavy police presence most of Friday at Cielo Azulyk left some residents shaken up.

“Just imagine, like us standing right here now, we were standing amongst that dude earlier this week,” said Ricky Carter, who lives in the complex and said he is married to Slonaker.

Law-enforcement officers from various agencies, including UGA police, Athens-Clarke County, the Georgia State Patrol and GBI, swarmed the complex much of Friday. In addition to a county command center, portable lights and portable bathrooms were trucked in. A drone buzzed above the apartments.

“They knocked on every single door and talked to every single person,” said Slonaker.

Jose Antonio Ibarra was denied bond Saturday morning. His brother also remained in custody on immigration charges.

The heavy police presence at the Cielo Azulyk apartment complex had melted away by early Saturday.

“Residents were told to contact police immediately if they see anything suspicious,” said an Athens-Clarke County police spokesperson Saturday afternoon.

Four residents, who didn’t want to share their names, said they remained anxious. They said at least three people, including people they thought were family members, had stayed at the apartments with the brothers and that they feared they were still in the area.

“We don’t feel safe here,” one resident told a reporter.

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