Student Killed On UGA Campus Highlights Dangers Of Running Alone For Women

When Laken Hope Riley was killed last week, she joined a grim list of women runners violently attacked and killed by strangers.

The 22-year-old nursing student’s body was found near a lake on the University of Georgia campus in Athens on Thursday. Her death has sparked renewed concerns about women’s safety while exercising by themselves, with random attacks on women walkers and hikers receiving a lot of media attention, too.

The widely reported cases are usually followed by articles offering tips from self-defense experts and social media posts and essays by women expressing outrage that they should — and indeed, must — alter their behavior to guarantee their safety.

The details of Riley’s killing echo those of many other victims. Her body was found hours after friends reported that she hadn’t returned from her morning run. The next evening, authorities announced that they had arrested Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, in connection with her death and charged him with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another. Riley died from blunt force trauma, authorities said, after being struck with a weapon that “disfigur[ed] her skull” and dragged to a secluded area, according to court documents.

Here are eight other well-known cases of women fatally attacked by strangers while running in the past 10 years.

Rachel Morin (found Aug. 6, 2023)
The 37-year-old mother of five was attacked on a Maryland hiking trail while she was running on the evening of Aug. 5, 2023, and pulled into a drainage culvert where her remains were found the next day, authorities said. DNA found at the crime scene matched that of an unidentified suspect in a Los Angeles home invasion in March 2023, authorities said. But despite security camera footage and a sketch of the suspect, he remains at large.

Mollie Tibbetts(last seen July 18, 2018; found Aug. 21, 2018)
The 20-year-old University of Iowa sophomore went for a routine jog on the evening of July 18, 2018, in her rural hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, but never returned. Her body was found a month later in a cornfield by police, who said they were led to her remains by 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera. She had been stabbed at least nine times in her head, neck, abdomen and hands, and her body was covered by corn stalks. Her underwear and running shorts were found nearby. Rivera, an undocumented immigrant who had been living in the area for at least four years, testified at his murder trial that he did not kill Tibbetts. Despite video evidence refuting his story, Rivera claimed that two masked men kidnapped him and forced him to drive to her location. He was found guilty in May 2021 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Vanessa Marcotte (found Aug. 7, 2016)
The body of the 27-year-old Google account manager was found in the woods hours after she went out for a late afternoon run in Princeton, Massachusetts, on Aug. 7, 2016. Marcotte, who lived in New York City, had been visiting her mother. Marcotte’s body was found half a mile from her mom’s house. An autopsy determined that she died from strangulation during a struggle; her injuries included blunt force trauma to her head and torso and a fractured nose. Her body was found partially clothed and burned.Delivery driver Angelo Colon-Ortiz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and unarmed robbery charges in connection with her death and was sentenced to a combined 45 years in prison without parole. Marcotte’s death was the third woman runner killed in nine days at the time, following the deaths of Karina Vetrano and Alexandra “Ally” Brueger, according to the Cut.

Wendy Karina Martinez (found Sept. 18, 2018)
The 35-year-old chief of staff at a Washington, D.C., technology company was waiting for a traffic light to change during an evening run in Logan Circle when a man stabbed her multiple times in the neck and ran away. A security video from a Chinese takeout restaurant nearby shows her stumbling into the restaurant and collapsing. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Martinez, who was born in Nicaragua and moved with her family to the U.S. when she was five, had just gotten engaged six days before the attack and was training for the Boston Marathon, her family said. Authorities said Anthony Crawford, 23, who had a history of mental illness and drug use, stole a kitchen knife from a nearby grocery store, walked about five blocks, and used the knife to stab Martinez, leaving a trail of blood. He was later arrested at a nearby park. Crawford pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in September 2019.

Melissa Millan (found Nov. 20, 2014)
The 54-year-old insurance executive and mother of two was fatally stabbed in the chest during an evening run in Simsbury, Connecticut, and later died at the hospital. The case remained unsolved for years until September 2018, when William Winters Leverett, 27, went to the Simsbury Police Department and told investigators he killed Millan, according to an arrest affidavit. Leverett, who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a child in 2009, said that he felt “lonely” after attending a sex offenders’ therapy group, spotted Millan jogging, parked his car nearby and approached her. He “went into a frenzy,” he said, and stabbed her with a knife he was carrying before returning to his car and driving away. He pleaded guilty to murder on March 8, 2022, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison with seven years of special parole.

Eliza Fletcher (found Sept. 5, 2022)
The 34-year-old kindergarten teacher and mother of two was abducted on Sept. 2, 2022, while out on an early morning run near the University of Memphis and found dead three days later near a vacant duplex after a massive search. Investigators said that they had recovered surveillance video that showed a man, later identified as Cleotha Abston, 38, approaching Fletcher at approximately 4:20 a.m., forcing her into his SUV and driving away. According to the autopsy, she died from a gunshot wound to the head and also suffered jaw fractures and blunt-force injuries to her leg. Abston, who has also gone by the name Cleotha Henderson, previously served 20 years in prison for kidnapping a prominent Memphis attorney when he was 16. A year before Fletcher’s killing, Abston was charged with raping a woman but not arrested because of a delay in processing the sexual assault kit, authorities said. He has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and murdering Fletcher. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted in Fletcher’s killing, but the murder trial will not be held until after he is tried in the separate rape case.

Karina Vetrano (found Aug. 2, 2016)
The body of the 30-year-old writer and speech pathologist was found hours after she left her Queens home in New York City at 5 p.m. for a routine run in a nearby park. An autopsy determined that Vetrano had been raped and strangled after putting up what New York police called a “ferocious fight.” Six months later, Chanel Lewis, 20, was arrested and pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and sexual assault. Although he had confessed to the killing in a taped police interview and investigators said DNA linked him to the crime, his defense attorneys argued that the confession was coerced and that the DNA evidence was unreliable. His first trial in 2018 ended in a hung jury, but he was found guilty in a second trial in April 2019 and sentenced to life in prison. Last year, Lewis’ attorneys filed a motion requesting a new trial, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated.

Sarmistha Sen (found Aug. 1, 2020)
The 43-year-old cancer researcher’s body was found less than two hours after she left her Plano, Texas, home for her usual morning run on a nearby trail on Aug. 1, 2020. Investigators said Sen, who was married with two young sons, was attacked on the trail and dragged down to a creek. She died of “blunt force injuries,” authorities said. Days after her killing, Bakari Abiona Moncrief, 29, was named as a person of interest and charged with Sen’s murder two weeks later. Authorities said in an arrest warrant that Moncrief was captured on a security camera breaking into a home near the trail where Sen was killed and that her blood was found on his shirt. He was indicted in November 2020 on a capital murder charge. His case is still pending.