Lack of clues about University of Idaho killings fuels fear and rumors

The baffling murders of four students at an off-campus home last week have sown frustration and alarm in the small city of Moscow

Col Kedrick Wills, director of the Idaho state police in the small northern Idaho city of Moscow, had a simple message. “We know that people want answers. We want answers, too,” he said a recent press conference.

A manhunt has now been under way for more than a week in this remote college town where a still-unidentified suspect stabbed four University of Idaho students to death in the early morning hours of 13 November.

The victims of the quadruple homicide – Ethan Chapin, 20, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Madison Mogen, 21 – were killed as they slept in an off-campus house on King Road, located near the university’s sorority and fraternity houses. A motive and the identity of who did the appalling crime remain unknown.

When Wills made his appeal before the television cameras he was not just speaking for the traumatized university community or the terrified college town that surrounds it. He was speaking for his state and the wider American public, which has watched in horror as more grim details of the gruesome slayings have come to light except for the most crucial ones of all – why this happened and who did it.

There are few clues.

In the hours before their murder, Mogen and Goncalves were at a downtown Moscow bar called the Corner Club between 10pm and 1.30am, then visited a late-night food truck. Video of the two close friends, who attended high school together and both worked at a local Greek restaurant, shows them ordering pasta with no signs of apparent distress. At approximately 1.40am, Mogen and Goncalves received a ride home from a “private party”, a person detectives have investigated and currently do not suspect had anything to do with the pair’s homicide.

During the same timeframe, Chapin and Kernodle were at a party at Sigma Chi, a fraternity house on the University of Idaho campus, until approximately 1.45am, when they returned to the King Road house. Kernodle, Mogen and Goncalves were roommates. Chapin did not live at the house, but appeared to be staying for the night. All of the victims were members of a University of Idaho sorority or fraternity. Their bodies were found on the second and third floors of the house.

“They got stabbed. We got the call. I don’t want people to make assumptions about our kids. It wasn’t drugs and it was definitely not some passion thing between these kids. Someone entered the house,” Stacey Chapin told the Idaho Statesman four days after her son’s body was discovered.

Authorities estimated the time of the murders was between 3 and 4am. Two additional unidentified roommates were asleep during the attack, according to Moscow police. They reportedly were out until 1am and then slept until the midday hours the next day. A cellphone belonging to one of the surviving roommates was used to place the initial 911 call. Police announced that detectives were recently made aware of multiple phone calls from Mogen and Goncalves to a male. That man, who remains unidentified by police, has been ruled out as a potential suspect.

The Latah county coroner’s autopsy reports showed no signs of sexual assault. “Well, there was a lot of blood,” the Latah county coroner, Cathy Mabbutt, told the Spokane, Washington, station KREM last Tuesday. “It was a very sad scene.” In her report, Mabbutt concluded the four victims were probably asleep when they were stabbed multiple times and some of them had defensive wounds.

It’s unclear how the attacker got into the home or what kind of knife was used in the stabbings. Police searched dumpsters around King Road for evidence but uncovered nothing of value. No weapon has been found, nor has any clothing worn by the suspect thus far been located.

University of Idaho student Alaina Tempelis prays on 17 November 2022, in Moscow, Idaho, outside of the home where four fellow students were recently murdered.
University of Idaho student Alaina Tempelis prays on 17 November, in Moscow, Idaho, outside of the home where four fellow students were recently murdered. Photograph: Zach Wilkinson/AP

“Based on details at the scene, we believe that this was an isolated, targeted attack on our victims,” said the Moscow police captain, James Fry, in the days following the murders. “We do not have a suspect at this time and that individual is still out there. We cannot say that there is no threat to the community and, as we have stated, please stay vigilant, report any suspicious activity and be aware of your surroundings at all times.”

On Sunday night, Fry declined to provide an explanation as to why police think this was a targeted attack or which of the roommates they think was the primary target. He also could not offer details about a possible location of the murderer. “We can’t say if the person is here,” Fry said.

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the unsolved homicides, Moscow police have been working with the Idaho state police and the FBI to process more than 600 tips and canvass homes and businesses in Moscow for surveillance video from the late-night hours of 12 November and the early-morning hours of 13 November.

During Sunday night’s press conference, Wills specifically asked community members to stop following or spreading rumors, arguably due to newly formed social media accounts about the unsolved murders spreading misinformation about suspects police have already ruled out.

Classes were canceled the day after the students’ bodies were found. Latah county sheriff’s deputy Scott Mikolajczyk said he saw students and neighbors of the deceased “getting out of Dodge” and leaving Moscow a week before the university’s Thanksgiving break began, the Idaho Statesman reported.

The University of Idaho president, Scott Green, reiterated that he believed the murders were a targeted attack that happened in off-campus housing. However, he acknowledged he was hearing that some students want to learn remotely until a suspect is apprehended, while others want to stay on campus.

“We are planning for the very real possibility that some students aren’t comfortable returning to campus,” Green said. He publicly asked for instructors to plan for both types of student experiences.

Until someone is arrested for the quadruple homicide, the University of Idaho campus and the city of Moscow will continue to have an increased law enforcement presence from the Idaho state police. Green called the troopers on campus a “very visible force” who will remain on campus for the foreseeable future. The university is also clamping down on residence hall security, requiring that all student dorms remain locked with only residents being granted access.

MacKenzie Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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