Christian faith at the center of Laken Riley’s remembrance, as mother speaks out for the first time since daughter’s murder

Laken Riley’s mother has publicly commented for the first time since the Feb. 22 murder of her daughter, calling it an “avoidable tragedy” and a “horrific nightmare,” while leaning on the…

Laken Riley’s mother has publicly commented for the first time since the Feb. 22 murder of her daughter, calling it an “avoidable tragedy” and a “horrific nightmare,” while leaning on the family’s Christian faith.

“My family has faced the most devastating, unimaginable loss that anyone could ever be forced to endure,” said Allyson Phillips in a Facebook post Saturday.

Phillips said her faith has provided comfort after her daughter’s unexpected death.

“I would like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for being with me and my family during this heartbreaking time. I encourage everyone to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I give Him all the glory for getting us through this.”

Riley was murdered during a morning jog near a wooded area of the University of Georgia campus. The man charged with her murder, Jose Antonio Ibarra, is an illegal immigrant from Venezuela, who entered the country illegally in 2022.

Following the tragedy, the support and love shown by their community has been “overwhelming,” Phillips said. 

“I can’t begin to tell you all how much we appreciate all of the text, calls, flowers, meals, groceries, bows, pictures, personal gifts, memorials, gift cards and donations to Laken’s foundation. We are beyond grateful for everyone who has stepped up to be here for us through this difficult time.” 

Phillips asked the public to continue praying for their family “as we put one foot in front of the other moving forward.” Phillips also changed her profile picture to a black and red heart – the colors of the University of Georgia – with “Laken Riley” in the center and the hashtag #sayhername at the bottom.

A GoFundMe to support Riley’s family has raised over $220,000, far exceeding its original goal of $35,000. 

Kanaan Rogers, a fellow Nursing student with Riley at Augusta University, started the fundraiser to assist with the funeral costs, create a scholarship in Riley’s name, and help raise awareness about homicide. 

Since Feb. 23, over 4,000 people have donated. 

“On behalf of our entire family we would like send out a heartfelt thank you for your donations and overwhelming support,” said Riley’s father, John Phillips, on the GoFundMe page. 

“Laken was an amazing daughter, sister, friend and overall person in general. Her love for the Lord was exemplified in every aspect of her life. She will be missed every day, but we promise to honor her life moving forward in a very big way. Every single dollar donated will go towards starting the Laken Hope Riley Foundation and will be used to drive homicide awareness and safety for women,” he promised.  

A memorial service for Riley was held Friday at Woodstock City Church. 

“Thank you to everyone that attended my precious Laken Hope Riley’s celebration of life on Friday,” said Allyson in a Facebook post Sunday.  

She called the ceremony a “beautiful tribute” to her daughter and said that it could never have happened without the support of their church community.  

“We will forever be grateful for the hard work, love, support, prayers and effort they all put into helping us navigate this tragic time. We could not have gotten through this without them.” 

The mother concluded her statement by inviting readers to visit Woodstock Church, citing Riley’s heart to share her faith.  

“Laken loved to invite people to go to church with her and share her faith. Her love for our Lord Jesus was infectious and helped many people develop or expand their relationship with our Lord and Savior,” she said.  

“I know my sweet Laken knew Jesus personally and she will live eternally in His home. He never left her side until the very last second she was here on earth and He will take care of her now and forever in heaven.  

“I find peace during this devastation in knowing that. If there is anything I can do to assist you or your family in developing your relationship with Jesus, please reach out to me. There is no way to honor my precious Laken more than to give your life to Jesus.”