Hundreds line up to pay tribute to slain Georgia nursing student who loved caring for others

FILE - This undated image provided by Augusta University shows Laken Hope Riley, a nursing student whose body was found Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Ga., after not returning from a run. (Augusta University via AP, File)

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (AP) — Hundreds of mourners lined up Friday at a church outside Atlanta to pay respects to the family of Laken Riley, the nursing student was found slain after she went out for a morning jog on the University of Georgia campus.

A funeral service for 22-year-old Riley followed a visitation in Cherokee County, where Riley lived before graduating from high school in Atlanta's northern suburbs. A long line formed outside the visitation at Woodstock City Church, where a slideshow of photos played on TV screens inside the large church's auditorium — Riley on a beach, at a football game, wearing a Bulldogs jersey.

Some people dabbed away tears as they passed by the casket, which was at the front of the auditorium and flanked by photos of Riley and flower bouquets.

The funeral service was not open to the media, and reporters were asked to wait outside on a sidewalk.

The ceremony included tributes from family, said David Milan, who attended the event and said he was an accountant for Riley's family.

“I've known her since she was a baby,” he said afterward in the church parking lot.

Riley was enrolled in the Augusta Medical College's nursing program in Athens when police found her dead Feb. 22 on the neighboring University of Georgia campus. A friend called police after Riley left to go running and didn't come home.

The killing shocked Riley's fellow students in Athens, where more than 41,000 attend UGA and another 210 are enrolled in the medical program where Riley studied nursing. Police arrested a suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, on murder charges the day after Riley was slain in a forested area with trails for running and walking.

Riley “loved nursing and caring for others,” according to her obituary from Poole Funeral Home. She had remained active in the Alpha Chi Omega sorority at UGA, where she studied before enrolling in nursing school.

In addition to her parents, Riley is survived by her stepfather, two sisters and a brother. One of her siblings, Lauren Phillips, posted on social media that Riley was “the best sister and my built in best friend from the very first second.”

“This isn’t fair and I will never understand it but I know you are in heaven,” Phillips wrote on Instagram after her sister’s death. She added, “I’m not sure how I’m going to do this but it’s all going to be for you from now on. I cannot wait to give you the biggest hug someday.”

Ibarra is a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case, which has thrust the slaying to the forefront of the U.S. debate over immigration, a top issue in the 2024 presidential campaign.