Brian Kemp asks for information on the suspect in the death of Laken Riley 1:34

(CNN) --

Alexa Doblado has not felt safe at the University of Georgia (UGA) since Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, was found dead on campus.

Riley died while running on university grounds, and his body was later found behind a nearby lake.

In the days after Riley's death, Doblado said she felt unsafe walking alone as a woman.

But then, when news spread that the suspect in Riley's murder was an undocumented Venezuelan migrant, Doblado said he became scared for an entirely different reason.

  • Suspect arrested in case of Laken Riley, nursing student found dead at the University of Georgia

Riley's brutal murder has sparked a series of online threats against immigrants and Latino students at the University of Georgia.

CNN has not independently verified these posts, but screenshots of threatening messages have circulated among the school's Latino community, creating a climate of fear.

Doblado decided not to attend Monday's campus vigil for Riley and another UGA student who committed suicide, fearing she would be attacked for being Latina.

“We had to watch it from my couch 30 minutes after it happened because we were afraid people would say something to harass us,” she said.

"It's almost like everyone else can lean on each other," he added.

“But Hispanic students, Latino students, immigrant students and international students could no longer feel the bond or the community because it seemed like everyone had turned their backs on us.”

The day after the vigil, Doblado said she was harassed by a man while waiting for the bus on campus, after she said a few words in Spanish over the phone.

“I hung up the phone and he turned to me and said, 'Well, you should go back to your own country,'” Doblado said, adding that the incident shook her and she called her mother.

Other students told CNN that messages posted on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app where college students can share posts with nearby users, sparked a “wave of intolerance.”

“Who [SIC] wants to go hunting tonight?

I know some places where these immigrants hang out,” reads a post that was later deleted.

“That was the first [post] that made everyone realize there was a problem,” a Mexican-American UGA student told CNN.

The student asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

“It may have just been an empty threat, and it was probably because people feel they can say what they want when their name is not attached and they are behind the screen.

But it still caused unrest and feelings of insecurity among Latino students on campus, and I just don't think that's right,” the student added.

CNN contacted the University of Georgia to ask about the climate of fear among some of its Hispanic students.

The university said in a statement that harassment and discrimination against “any member of the university community” is prohibited.

Yik Yak has faced criticism for harassment and threats that have occurred on the platform and the company closed operations in 2016.

But four years later, the company returned promising the same anonymity, but with strict guidelines for content.

Now, if a post receives more than five downvotes, it is automatically removed, according to the company's website.

"At the new Yik Yak it is against community ties to post bullying messages or use hate speech, make threats or share anyone's private information," the company's website says.

The app specifically does not allow content that "perpetuates the oppression of marginalized communities."

CNN reached out to Yik Yak for comment on recent posts targeting Latino students at UGA.

Other posts on X and Yik Yak reviewed by CNN called for violence against undocumented people and said Riley's death was a result of Athens, Georgia, being a sanctuary city.

"[At first] everyone seemed to gather on Yik Yak and other platforms, saying that we love and support each other... People were talking, especially the girls, about walking and running together in groups around Laken," said the anonymous student, adding that the tone on campus changed quickly.

"We really should have focused on the people we lost this week."

Augusta University students, dressed in blue, and University of Georgia students gather on the UGA campus to pay tribute to Laken Riley.

Nell Carroll/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

Pain aggravated by fear

In 2022, Hispanic students made up nearly 7% of the student body on UGA's campus, according to demographic data released by the university.

Several Latino student groups organized an emotional support event on the same day as the vigil so students could discuss their feelings as a community.

“We began with a moment of silence for those who had passed away and a prayer to set the tone for what was happening,” Emmett Hincapie, a UGA graduate student of Puerto Rican and Colombian descent, told CNN.

“We were really trying to focus on some of these different complex emotions that come with loss, as well as all of this rhetoric that's going around now,” Hincapie said.

During one activity, students went around the room and each said a word that made them feel empowered.

The university's Hispanic Student Association and Latinos Invested in the Students of Tomorrow addressed the hateful comments in a joint statement and called for unity on campus.

“The hurtful and discriminatory comments made following the tragic loss of one of our own have moved us all deeply.

That pain should not be used for racism, hatred or xenophobia,” the groups wrote.

“Now, more than ever, we must come together to reject hate in all its forms and create a campus community where every member feels safe, valued and respected.

“We belong here as much as anyone else.”

Scapegoat and silence

Jean-Luc Rivera, deputy executive director of the nonprofit Georgia Latino Community Fund, said the rhetoric that has emerged since Riley's murder is the result of scapegoating.

“Many people are experiencing very real and justified fear based on messages and narratives that are being generated and calls to action or blaming entire groups of people for this murder,” Rivera told CNN.

“Scapegoating makes some people feel better about themselves when it comes to a solution to a complex problem.

But you know, we absolutely reject that message.

“It dehumanizes immigrants, it separates us and makes us feel weaker.”

Kimberly, an American student of Salvadoran and Mexican descent at UGA, said she would feel safer on campus if the university issued a statement acknowledging the problem.

CNN agreed to use only her first name out of respect for her concerns about her safety.

“They should definitely talk about it and say it's not right.

Maybe they're afraid that it will take away from the bigger problem that's going on, but they should say they see what's going on instead of ignoring it,” he said.

In the wake of Riley's death, the university also announced new safety measures, including blue-lit phone booths, which allow students to call the police with the touch of a button, lighting improvements and increased funding for the university's police department. campus.

Doblado said he believes the university administration should do more to address concerns and fear among Hispanic and Latino students.

“It is necessary to recognize everyone's pain.

The fact that Latino students are processing this pain while also having to process this fear is very, very scary,” she said.

“The fact that they are silent is very, very disturbing and revealing... And I love UGA, it's a great school.

But right now, it really sucks to be a Latino student here.”