Laken Riley: Family, friends to gather for funeral for nursing student

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. — Family and friends came together on Friday for a celebration of life service for 22-year-old Laken Riley.

Police found the Augusta University nursing student dead on Feb. 22 near the intramural fields on the University of Georgia’s campus. The next day, police arrested and charged Jose Ibarra in her murder.

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On Friday, Woodstock City Church held a celebration of life service for Riley, beginning with visitation for family and friends at 12 p.m. and followed by the service at 2 p.m.

Channel 2′s Bryan Mims was outside the church Friday, where hundreds of mourners packed the church. Family, friends and the community braved a cold rain as they filed past a white hearse.

Police officers kept watch across the church’s sprawling property. Security was tight and media cameras were not allowed inside the church for the service. The church’s lead pastor, Samer Massad, sent a written statement to the media.

Her pastor left us with a statement, writing:

“When the world loses someone like Laken, whose light consistently shined so bright, it seems that much darker in their absence. Laken was special. She was a gift to anyone who knew her. Smart, kind, compassionate, and thoughtful don’t even begin to scratch the surface. She was a loving daughter, sister, and friend. She had a gift for making anyone she was around feel comfortable and seen. But the most special thing about Laken was her faith in Jesus. She didn’t just believe it, she lived it. And because of her faith, as hard as days like today are, we grieve her loss and celebrate her life with the hope that she is now in the presence of Jesus, her Savior. We will miss her dearly. Laken’s family is family to us, and as their church family, we here at Woodstock City Church are committed to walking alongside them and carrying this burden with them. To John, Allyson, and Lauren – we love you all so very much, and we are with you!”

Riley grew up in Cherokee County and graduated from River Ridge High School in 2020. Those who knew Riley remembered her as “a selfless giver” and said her passion for others is what led to her enrolling in nursing school.

“Her smile was extremely infectious, and she spread joy to others everywhere she went,” her obituary reads.

Mims talked to people outside the church who didn’t know Riley, but were deeply affected by her death.

“People are kind of taking care of their college kids a little closer and realizing how short life can be and just rallying around the family,” Francina Maloney said. She has her own daughter at UGA.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to the GoFundMe account. All the money raised will go towards starting the Laken Riley Foundation to “drive homicide awareness and safety for women.”

“Laken was an amazing daughter, sister, friend and an overall extraordinary person. She will be missed every day, but we promise to honor her life moving forward in a very big way,” her family wrote.