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Murdered Laken Riley remembered as ‘one of the brightest lights’ at vigil for two Georgia students

Classmates remembered Laken Riley — a nursing student who went for a morning run and never returned — and another student who took his own life at a vigil at the University of Georgia campus, as the school seeks to recover from a “traumatic time.”

On Monday afternoon, fellow students gave a tribute to 22-year-old Riley, who went for a morning run on the University of Georgia’s intramural fields but after not coming back for hours, her roommate called for help, prompting a search. Riley’s body was found 40 minutes later; her death was ruled a homicide and a suspect is being held in custody.

“It is so obvious to me why it feels so dark right now and that is because we’ve lost one of the brightest lights there has ever been,” Chloe Mullis, the chapter president of Alpha Chi Omega, of which Riley was a member.

Riley was “the best listener” and “had an eye for those who were secretly struggling,” Ms Mullis said emotionally.

Laken Riley remembered as ‘one of the brightest lights’ at vigil (Supplied)
Laken Riley remembered as ‘one of the brightest lights’ at vigil (Supplied)

The 22-year-old was attending nursing school at Augusta University. Ms Mullis described Riley as “devoted to making this world a better place.”

Ms Mullis added, “Although the flowers will fade and the visitors will slow…our hearts will always ache without Laken.”

Last week, Augusta University President Brooks A Keel released a letter to his school’s community about the tragedy. “It is with deepest sorrow that I share with you the news that one of our students at our College of Nursing campus at Athens has passed away.”

The vigil also remembered Wyatt Banks, who passed away within a day of Riley, though officials confirmed the deaths were not connected. Banks had an “infectious smile” that could “bring up the room in an instant,” and was “quick to lend a helping hand,” said a close friend of Banks.

“The past 24 hours have been a traumatic time for our University,” the university wrote in a statement. “Our student body is grieving the sudden death of one of our students in Brumby Hall last night. And as we continue to mourn that tragic loss of life, today’s devastating news will uniquely test the resolve of our campus community, particularly our students.”

GoFundMepages have been set up for both Riley and Banks, with both of them raking in more than $100,000 in donations.

The investigation into Riley’s death is still ongoing. She died of blunt force head trauma, the county coroner’s office’s preliminary cause of death revealed on Monday, AtlantaNewsFirst reported, noting that the official autopsy report will take several weeks.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, was arrested last week and has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, false imprisonment, kidnapping and other charges.

Police said Riley and Ibarra did not know each other. “This was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual, and bad things happened,” UGA Police Chief Jeff Clark said.

Following the arrest of Ibarra, who is not a US citizen, ICE has said the agency has lodged a detainer on him.

Now, the community is left reeling from two back-to-back tragedies.