Athens Clarke-County Mayor Heckled While Addressing Community Safety Following Laken Riley Murder: ‘You Have Blood on Your Hands!’

Rachel Acenas
By Rachel Acenas
February 29, 2024US News
Athens Clarke-County Mayor Heckled While Addressing Community Safety Following Laken Riley Murder: ‘You Have Blood on Your Hands!’
University of Georgia police along with Athens-Clarke County police, Georgia State Patrol, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) search the Cielo Azulyk apartment complex after executing a search warrant in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 23. 2024. (Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald via AP)

Tensions grew high as Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz addressed the city’s immigration status and new safety measures following the murder of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley on the University of Georgia campus last week.

During Wednesday’s press conference, a resident accused the mayor of allowing the crime to happen: “You’re guilty! You have blood on your hands for this murder!”

Ms. Riley died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the Athens Clarke-County Coroner. The nursing student was found dead after going on a run on campus last Thursday.

The alleged killer and Venezuelan citizen, Jose Antonio Ibarra, entered the United States illegally in September 2022 through El Paso, Texas, according to Lindsay Williams, spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), but was “paroled and released for further processing.” Nearly a year later, Mr. Ibarra was arrested and charged in New York for child endangerment but was released before a detainer could be issued.

Records with the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office show the suspect now faces several charges, including kidnapping, aggravated assault, and 2nd-degree murder.

In the wake of the killing, the mayor told the media, “We are deeply sorry for this tragedy. The responsibility for this crime rests solely on the perpetrator.”

Mr. Girtz cited Georgia statute when pressed about immigration policy. “The term sanctuary city does not have a sole, legal or procedural definition,” he said.

He also told reporters, “I caution against conflating immigration and crime. The data demonstrates the two are not connected.”

Protestors expressed outrage over the comments. One resident called the mayor a “liar” and “lawless” while accusing him of failing to defend the public and upholding his oath of office.

But the mayor also discussed the federal government’s role in shaping immigration policy, specifically blaming Congress and the last four presidents: “All of them have failed on how to handle immigration.”

However, he praised the recent work of a bipartisan group of senators to craft a bill to make headway on the immigration issue, calling it “a step forward.”

NTD Photo
Laken Riley. (Augusta University via AP)

‘Now a Tragedy Has Happened’

In a post on X, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp wrote, “For more than two years, we’ve demanded action to secure our southern border and answers from the White House about who’s coming into our country.”

“We’ve yet to get an answer, we’ve yet to see action, and now a tragedy has happened,” Mr. Kemp said. “We need answers, and we need action, from Joe Biden and the White House NOW.”

Meanwhile, the mayor announced new safety investments, which will be proposed to the County Commission for endorsement next week. This includes advancing a real-time crime center to connect all publicly accessible cameras and some private surveillance together into a unified system and staffing the real-time crime center to “rapidly pursue cases.”

Additionally, a mobile closed-circuit television surveillance trailer for large-scale community events and gatherings will also be considered.

A funeral service to honor the life of Ms. Riley will be held on March 1.

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