Student found dead on UGA campus identified; person of interest detained

GBI investigators search through a dumpster near the apartment complex in Athens where a person of interest was taken into custody Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in the death of Laken Hope Riley. (livestream image Fox Five News)

University of Georgia police have identified and are questioning a person of interest relating to the homicide of 22-year-old Laken Riley, according to UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor. Trevor made the statement at an apartment complex off South Milledge Avenue less than two miles from where Riley’s body was found.

Officers were seen searching dumpsters in the area as well.

“University of Georgia police have identified a person of interest who is being questioned,” Trevor said in his statement. “We want to stress that this continues to be an active, ongoing investigation and we will provide updates as circumstances warrant.”

Riley was found dead in the wooded area behind Lake Herrick on Thursday after a friend reported she had not returned home from a run. She was found unconscious, not breathing and with visible injuries on Thursday and was pronounced dead at the scene.

The University of Georgia Police Department is working with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and Georgia Bureau of Investigation in the ongoing investigation. The Athens coroner confirmed on Friday that Riley’s body was taken to the GBI Crime Lab in DeKalb County.

Riley was a nursing student at the Athens campus of Augusta University’s College of Nursing, Trevor confirmed. She attended the University of Georgia until the spring of 2023 before transferring to the nursing college.

“She was still active in her sorority [at UGA],” Trevor told The Red & Black. “She was active in the community and well known and from all accounts very well liked.”

Riley graduated from River Ridge High School in 2020 and was from Woodstock, Georgia. She was a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority. In the fall of 2023, she made the dean’s list at Augusta University.

Riley was reported missing by a friend at approximately 12:07 p.m. Thursday and found at approximately 12:38 p.m. in the forest area near Lake Herrick unconscious, not breathing and with visible injuries. Officers immediately began rendering medical aid, according to an email sent to students by UGA administration.

Foul play is suspected in Riley’s death. In a press conference on Thursday night, UGA Chief of Police Jeff Clark stated there were no suspects at the time. While there is a suspect on the loose, Clark said, “There is always a danger, but there is no immediate danger at this time.”

“We’re leaving no stone unturned,” Trevor told The Red & Black. “We are doing everything we can to find the person or persons involved.”

UGAPD is working with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in the ongoing investigation. The Athens coroner confirmed on Friday that Riley’s body was taken to the GBI Crime Lab in DeKalb County.

According to a UGA Alert email sent Friday morning, police are still on the scene at the Oconee Forest Park area of the intramural fields and are asking that people continue to avoid the forested area while the investigation is ongoing.

The Augusta University College of Nursing confirmed on social media that the victim was a nursing student at their Athens campus, located on Barnett Shoals Road. While classes were canceled on Friday, the college’s Athens campus remained open “as a gathering place for students, faculty and staff.” Counselors and support services were at the campus starting at 8 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 23, along with the interim dean and other administrators.

Anyone with information related to the incident is urged to contact UGA police immediately at 706-542-2200. UGA police also recommend students, faculty, and staff download the UGA Safe App, travel in groups when possible, and be aware of their surroundings.

Students were also encouraged to contact Student Care and Outreach (https://sco.uga.edu/, sco@uga.edu, 706-542-8479) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (https://caps.uga.edu/, 706-542-2273) for support.

This article comes to Now Habersham in partnership with The Red & Black

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