‘I Wish I Could Have Been There’: Laken Riley’s Father Breaks Silence

By Virginia Allen Published on March 19, 2024

The father of slain nursing student Laken Riley is speaking out about his daughter’s murder on the campus of the University of Georgia.

“I wish I could have been there to protect her,” Jason Riley said in an exclusive interview with NBC News that aired Monday.  

Police say that an illegal alien from Venezuela killed Laken Riley, 22, a nursing student at nearby Augusta University, by bludgeoning her to death Feb. 22 on her former campus in Athens, Georgia. She graduated last year.

“I cry every day,” Riley told NBC News’ Priscilla Thompson. “I wake up every day thinking, you know, that I can call her. And I can’t.”

He described his daughter as “an angel” who enjoyed running marathons. She dreamed of being a nurse and working with children, he said. 

“We were looking forward to seeing her graduate next year,” he said. “She was so full of life. I just hate that she was taken so early.”  

Laken Riley went out for a jog on her former campus Feb. 22, but didn’t return home. After a friend called police, her body was found in a wooded area behind Lake Herrick on the UGA campus. Authorities concluded that she died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, an illegal alien from Venezuela, was arrested and charged with Riley’s murder.  

Ibarra, 26, first crossed into America illegally in 2022, officials said. Ibarra was arrested last year in New York on charges of child endangerment, but was released before U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could ask local law enforcement to hold him. 

Thompson asked Riley’s father if he thought “a difference in immigration policy would have made a difference for Laken?”  

“We have no idea if that would have changed anything, but he’s here illegally” Jason Riley said of Ibarra. “But I do know that he might not have been here had we had secure borders.”

Ibarra has yet to enter a plea, but reportedly has requested a jury trial. 

Jason Riley told NBC News that he thinks his daughter is “being used somewhat politically.”  

“How do you feel about that?” Thompson asked.  

“It makes me angry,” Riley said. “She was much better than that. She should be raised up for the person that she is.” 

Riley’s death spurred calls for border security not only in Washington but across America.  

During President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address March 7, he acknowledged Riley’s murder even as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., could be heard in the audience yelling, “Say her name.”

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“Lincoln Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” the president responded, mispronouncing the young woman’s first name.

Biden later said during an interview on MSNBC that he shouldn’t have referred to Riley’s alleged murderer as “an illegal.” 

Riley’s mother and stepfather met with former President Donald Trump in Rome, Georgia, before a Trump campaign rally March 9.  

Sens. Ted Budd, R-N.C., and Katie Britt, R-Ala., along with 32 other senators, introduced the Laken Riley Act, originally introduced in the House, on March 13.  

If passed and signed into law, the measure would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest illegal immigrants who “commit theft, burglary, larceny, or shoplifting offenses” and “mandate that these aliens are detained until they are removed from the United States,” according to a statement from Budd’s office.  

The House passed the Laken Riley Act on March 7, with 37 Democrats joining all Republicans to support the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has yet to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

 

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