UGA campus safety concerns after tragic homicide

Students gathered last Monday at UGA’s Tate Plaza for a vigil to memorialize Riley and Banks. The event united students in a moment of mourning on the first day of class since the passings. // Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia

The University of Georgia (UGA) announced new measures for strengthening safety across their campus, totaling $7.3 million after the first homicide in nearly 30 years took place on campus a few days prior. 

These measures, announced on Feb. 27, will include a 20% increase to the UGA Police Department budget for recruiting additional personnel and more competitive pay for officers, installation of more security cameras, lighting upgrades, license plate readers, a security camera-blue light call box system to be installed in strategic locations across campus and a daily four-hour extension to the existing RideSmart program, which provides a 50% discount on Lyft
rides for UGA students.

Laken Riley was recovered near intramural fields at the University of Georgia in Athens on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. The 22-year-old student was found after a friend reported to UGA police that Riley had not returned from a run earlier that morning. University police located Riley with visible injuries, and Jeff Clark, Chief of Police at the UGA Police Department, later confirmed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Described as a “daughter, sister, friend and an overall extraordinary person,” Riley had been a student at UGA until the end of the spring semester in 2023 before she transferred to the Augusta University College of Nursing program in Athens, where she was enrolled as a nursing student. Riley was still active in Alpha Chi Omega, her sorority at UGA, and was an avid runner and nanny. 

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, was charged with her murder on Friday, Feb. 23. Authorities say that they did not know each other and that “this was just a crime of opportunity,” according to Chief Clark. Ibarra acted alone, and as per an update from the UGA Police Department on Feb. 23, “At this time, there are no indications of a continuing threat to the UGA campus related to this matter.”

Currently, Ibarra is facing eight charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call and concealing the death of another. He was denied bond at a hearing on Saturday, Feb. 24 and has remained in jail. 

Ibarra came to the United States from Venezuela in September of 2022 and was arrested when he crossed the border illegally near El Paso, Texas. Ibarra has also faced other criminal charges, once being arrested and released in August 2023 for acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and driving without a motor vehicle license and was once detained in connection with a shoplifting case at a Walmart in Athens in October 2023.

Riley’s tragic passing sent shockwaves across her hometown of Woodstock, Ga., and the greater Athens-Clarke county, a community also reeling from
another student death. 

A vigil was held on Monday, Feb. 26, for Riley and Wyatt Banks, a student who had passed the day before in an unrelated incident. The event was organized by the Beta Sigma chapter of Alpha Chi Omega and the Beta Lambda chapter of Kappa Sigma, the respective sorority and fraternity organizations of Riley and Banks.

Safety concerns have rattled the UGA community. A petition on calling for the installment of emergency blue lights across the UGA campus received a total of 25,972 signatures, with the petition citing that “​​the fear of being unsafe should not be an additional burden on their [students] academic journey.” 

The installment of emergency blue lights alone does not solve the overall concern of safety, and to combat this, the blue lights will also provide security cameras and additional lighting. Additionally, these measures will provide security personnel to the Miller Learning Center, the UGA Libraries, the Tate Student Center and the Ramsey Student Center during the evenings and nighttime, according to a UGA Media Relations press release. 

“The protection of our students, faculty and staff at the University of Georgia is always top of mind for me and our senior administration, and we are continually evaluating our safety programs,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead in the same release.

On-campus crimes are a sobering reminder that there are still improvements to be made toward better-protecting students. Students on campuses across the country have reiterated the need for more security and support measures, especially in the light of  the recent tragic events. 

“I like that they’re putting in more safety measures, but there were some things I felt that they missed. There is no bus that takes students to the park and ride lot after 6 p.m., and it would be great if the bus hours were extended,” said Alex Smith, a second-year Animal Biosciences major at UGA. “I’ve had to walk by myself in the dark after the buses stopped running and felt unsafe.”

Many universities have installed blue light boxes across their campuses, with UGA being one of the first schools to do so. However, in 2004, the phone system infrastructure could no longer support analog technology used in the call boxes. Due to a “costly digital upgrade” and the UGA Police Department website citing that “[using] cell phones to contact public safety personnel has become the new societal norm,” the boxes were removed. 

Per the new measures announced, the blue light phones will be reinstalled and expanded. 

As an urban campus, the issue of campus safety is a relevant one, and Tech currently implements a similar measure in regards to the blue lights.  According to the Georgia Tech Police Department’s (GTPD) website, there is “a network of 555 Blue Light Emergency Phones across the entire campus,” including six in the vicinity of Tech Square. Georgia State University (GSU), also announced the addition of 50 new blue light call boxes across their Atlanta campus in June 2023.  

Frequent runners, Devon Cleaver, first-year ME, and Genevieve Trainor, second-year CS, feel somewhat more comfortable running on-campus, due to the amount of Blue Lights available. 

Both run outdoors multiple times a week throughout West Campus, Tech Square and the Pi Mile, as well as off campus towards Piedmont Park and the Beltline. 

“Some of Tech’s paths get pretty dark…, some things that would make me feel safer would be more light and making sure that people who shouldn’t be on campus aren’t there.” Trainor said.

“I would feel a lot safer if they parked more GTPD cars or had more people watching near the edges of campus because that would almost extend the safety feeling of campus.” Cleaver said. 

The addition of these blue lights has provided additional security to campus but still does not solve the overall issue of keeping students safe. There was a 6.3% increase in crime on Tech’s campus from 2022 to 2023, according to GTPD crime statistics. GSU experienced a spike in crime from 2020-2022, with two homicide cases that took place off-campus in front of several student housing units. 

TheTechnique, along with the Tech community, would like to express our deepest condolences to the UGA community in this time of tragedy. We know that impact of these students was far reaching, and if any students feel need to seek help, resources are available at, or reach out for immediate support at 404-894-3498.