A nursing student was found dead on the University of Georgia campus after not returning from a run

A sign for the University of Georgia is seen, May 28, 2004, in Athens, Ga. A woman was found dead Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, on the campus of the University of Georgia after a friend told police she had not returned from a morning run, the university said. (AP Photo/Allen Sullivan, File)

This story was updated at 1:22 p.m.

A nursing student was found dead on the University of Georgia campus after not returning from a run, said authorities, who were checking security cameras and advising students to travel in groups and avoid the wooded area where her body was found.

Police do not have a suspect and are investigating this as a homicide, said University of Georgia Police Chief Jeff Clark.

The university identified the victim Friday as 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley, a student at the Augusta University College of Nursing’s Athens campus, near the University of Georgia.

Her body was found Thursday afternoon after a friend told police she had not returned from a morning run, authorities said. She was unconscious and had “visible injuries” when officers found her, Clark said. Foul play is suspected.

“When you have a suspect that’s on the loose, there’s always a danger but there’s no immediate danger at this time,” Clark said.

Riley had studied at the University of Georgia through the spring of 2023 before transferring to Augusta University’s College of Nursing, according to a statement from the University of Georgia, which does not have a nursing program itself.

Riley graduated in 2020 from a high school in Woodstock, a suburb northwest of Atlanta, where she ran cross country.

The University of Georgia Police Department on Thursday at approximately 12:07 p.m. “received a call from a friend of Laken’s who was concerned that she had gone to run at the intramural fields earlier in the morning and had not returned as expected,” a police statement said.

Officers immediately began a search and found her body in a forested area near Lake Herrick that includes trails popular with runners and walkers.

“Officers immediately began rendering medical aid. Emergency medical responders determined that she was deceased upon their arrival,” a police statement said.

The area is close to the University of Georgia’s intramural fields, and only a little farther from a large dormitory complex mostly occupied by freshmen. The University of Georgia has 41,000 students, mostly in Athens, dominating Athens-Clarke County, which has about 129,000 residents in the consolidated city-county.

The University of Georgia Police Department, along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, are conducting the investigation.

Chief Clark noted that there has not been a homicide on campus in the last 20 years.

“We’re not going to leave any rock unturned in this investigation,” he said.

The University of Georgia canceled classes Friday. Augusta University canceled classes at its Athens campus but said it will remain open as a gathering place for students, faculty and staff.

The death “hits a little too close to home,” said Veronica Bennett, the mother of a University of Georgia student. She’s part of a group of moms pushing for security improvements on campus that go beyond the school’s safety app, WSB-TV reported.

“As a parent, I get tired of that being UGA’s go-to. Oh, we have the safety app. Well, the safety app is not much of a deterrent,” Bennett told the Atlanta TV station.

Students at the university were already on edge after a male student was found dead in his dorm room Wednesday and an armed robbery took place in the center of campus on the night of Feb. 16. University of Georgia police said Thursday there was no reason to believe the incidents were connected to Riley’s death.

Murder is relatively rate in Athens, with the city averaging 6 murders per year, a murder rate that’s about half Georgia’s statewide average. But Athens-Clarke crime statistics show other types of crime with rates above Georgia’s statewide average, including aggravated assault, burglary, rape and motor vehicle theft.

The University of Georgia has grown steadily, creating housing and gentrification pressures in a city where many nonstudent residents are less affluent. The university, in the meantime, has grown more elite as the state’s population has swelled. Georgia has a lottery-funded scholarship program that pays the full cost of tuition for more than 80% of University of Georgia students, making it an attractive destination for top in-state students.