UGA Pressured to Improve Security After Nursing Student Death

A UGA student started a petition urging the installation of emergency lights in the area where Riley’s body was found.

UGA Pressured to Improve Security After Nursing Student Death

Photo: cratervalley -

ATHENS, Ga. — Students and parents are urging University of Georgia (UGA) leaders to quickly implement security improvements following the on-campus murder of a nursing student.

Police say 22-year-old Laken Riley, a nursing student at nearby Augusta University and a UGA graduate, was killed Thursday while out for a run on the UGA campus. The suspected killer has been identified as 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra. UGA Police Chief Jeff Clark said the victim and suspect did not know each other and that it was a “crime of opportunity.”

Immediately following the incident, a UGA student started a petition urging for the installation of emergency lights in the area where Riley’s body was found. The petition has nearly 26,000 signatures. UGAPD wrote on its website that the campus used to have call boxes but determined they are no longer necessary, Fox reports.

On Feb. 25, the school released a statement noting it has invested $16 million over the last eight years “to hire more police personnel, design and install an extensive security camera network, enhance lighting, establish a nightly rideshare program, and create a widely used UGA Safe app.” Two days later, officials announced the university had installed blue light boxes, combined with cameras and additional lighting, in strategic areas around campus, according to the petition.

Some students have taken it upon themselves to improve their safety, walking in groups and carrying pepper spray.

“It’s like it’s always there in the back of your mind,” UGA student Sanjana Gowda told NBC News as she held a keychain with pepper spray and a whistle. “This happened in broad daylight on campus — somewhere that I go pretty frequently, too.”

The nonprofit organization SafeD Athens, which includes parents of students, is calling on the university to implement other safety initiatives, including increased safety patrols, enhanced camera surveillance systems in designated “safety zones,” and re-evaluating the campus’ environmental design to identify areas where people could be prone to dangerous situations.

“We’ve been pushing these programs for well over three years, and many times in front of stakeholders and UGA leadership, and it falls on deaf ears, quite honestly,” said SafeD Athens board President Susan Monteverde. “And we’re asking parents to help, we’re asking students to help or want students to take responsibility for their own safety and security on campus.”

Parents Question the Safety of Athens

Parents are also voicing concerns about safety in the surrounding community. Laurie Camp, whose son is a student at UGA, said Riley’s murder is one of many recent violent crimes in Athens.

“I want our mayor and commissioner to quit putting their political agendas in front of the safety of our citizens and students in Athens-Clarke County,” she said, referring to the fact that some lawmakers and residents have called Athens a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants, according to Fox. In an email to Fox, Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz said Athens is not a sanctuary city because it complies with Georgia law, which prohibits them.

Ibarra, who is not a U.S. citizen, migrated to the United States from Venezuela, authorities said. He was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Sept. 2022 for crossing the border illegally near El Paso, Texas. He was then released with temporary permission to stay in the country, a federal law enforcement official said Thursday.

Following Riley’s murder, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) faulted the Biden administration for its immigration policies, according to NBC News. Some Democratic leaders said connecting Riley’s death with border security is a “cheap” political tactic. Monteverde said that “whoever the suspect is is irrelevant to the fact that UGA needs to enhance their safety and security on campus.”

Another parent, Giovanna McDavid, said the city’s safety issues extend beyond immigration. Her son, 24-year-old JaiVanni McDavid, died in a shooting near UGA’s campus last March. A teenager was arrested in connection with the deadly shooting, and McDavid doesn’t feel Athens-Clark County is investing enough in its youth.

“Clarke County has cut a lot of the funding for them to have things to do. So, now kids don’t have anything to do,” she told Fox.

Georgia State to Make Security Improvements After Off-Campus Murder

Over 70 miles away, Georgia State University (GSU) President M. Brian Blake also announced the school will enhance security after a 21-year-old man was shot to death near campus Sunday afternoon, WSB-TV reports.

“We have made recent enhancements that added more officer monitoring and cameras, reoriented our building entrances and provided staff training, and we will assess this incident to make more impactful changes,” he said.

None of the involved parties had connections to GSU but students have voiced concerns about violence in the communities surrounding the Atlanta campus. Last month, bullets hit the windows of a GSU dorm. In December, two people were shot on campus, one fatally. In October, four people were shot, including two GSU students, at a gas station next to the campus.

GSU Student Body President Zayvian Sheppard told WSB-TV he would like to see Atlanta police and city officials do more to improve security around the campus.

“We’re doing everything we can on an administrative level, but myself and other students don’t really feel like we’re being supported by the city,” he said. “I just think there needs to be honest and open conversation about what can we do as a university and what can the city do to help us moving forward.”

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

About the Author


Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo