EXPLAINER: Killings of 4 Idaho students fuel online sleuths
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The killings of four University of Idaho students nearly three weeks ago have grabbed the attention of thousands of would-be armchair sleuths, many of whom are posting speculation and unfounded rumors about the fatal stabbings online.
Relatively few details have been released in the horrific case that has left the small town of Moscow stunned and grieving for Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin.
The unanswered questions are fueling extensive interest in details about what happened. Here is a look at what is known about the killings, and what remains a mystery:
IS THERE A SUSPECT?
The Moscow Police Department has not yet named a suspect or made any arrests. Investigators have also not yet found a weapon, the department wrote in a news release Wednesday. Autopsies determined the four students were stabbed to death, likely with a fixed-blade knife, and investigators checked with local stores to see if any had sold military-style knives recently.
WHO WERE THE VICTIMS?
All four were friends and members of the university’s Greek system. Xana Kernodle, 20, was a junior studying marketing. She was from Post Falls, Idaho, and joined the Pi Beta Phi sorority on campus. She lived at the rental home with the other two women who were stabbed, and she was dating Ethan Chapin, who was visiting the night of the killings.
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Chapin, also 20, was from Mount Vernon, Washington and was a triplet. His brother and sister also attend UI, and both Chapin and his brother were members of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen were both 21 and friends who grew up together in northern Idaho. Mogen worked with Kernodle at a local Greek restaurant in Moscow. She was also a member of Pi Beta Phi.
Goncalves was a senior majoring in general studies, a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and was planning a trip to Europe next year.
WERE THE VICTIMS TARGETED?
It’s unclear whether the killer or killers knew the victims. Police and the county prosecutor’s office have released confusing — and at times contradictory — statements about whether the victims were “targeted.”
On Thursday, the police department issued this statement: “We remain consistent in our belief that this was a targeted attack, but investigators have not concluded if the target was the residence or if it was the occupants.”
Investigators say nothing appears to have been stolen from the home.
WHAT HAPPENED THE NIGHT AND MORNING OF THE ATTACK?
Goncalves and Mogen went to a local bar, stopped at a food truck and then caught a ride home with a private party around 1:56 a.m., according to a police timeline of the evening.
Chapin and Kernodle were at the Sigma Chi house — just a short walk away — and returned to Kernodle’s house around 1:45 a.m., police said.
Two other roommates who live in the home were also out that evening, but returned home by 1 a.m., police said. They didn’t wake up until later that morning.
After they woke up, they called friends to come to the house because they believed one of the victims found on the second floor had passed out and wasn’t waking up. At 11:58 a.m., someone inside the home called 911, using a roommate’s cell phone. Multiple people talked with the dispatcher before police arrived.
Police found two of the victims on the second floor of the three-story home, and two on the third floor. A dog was also at the home, unharmed.
Autopsies showed the four were all likely asleep when they were attacked, some had defensive wounds and each was stabbed multiple times. There was no sign of sexual assault, police said.
HAS ANYONE BEEN CLEARED?
Police say that neither the two surviving roommates nor anyone who was at the home during the 911 call are believed to be involved with the attack. Police also say some of the people seen out with Goncalves and Mogen, including the person who drove them home, are not believed to be involved.
A sixth person is also listed on the rental lease for the house, police revealed Thursday, but detectives do not believe that person was at home during the attack.
ARE OTHER AGENCIES HELPING WITH THE INVESTIGATION?
A lot of manpower and resources have been focused on the investigation. Idaho Gov. Brad Little has made $1 million in emergency funding available for the investigation.
The Moscow Police Department has four detectives and dozens of officers on the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has assigned more than 40 agents, with about half stationed in Moscow. The Idaho State Police has roughly 20 investigators assisting, and several troopers patrolling the town.
IS THERE ANY THREAT TO THE COMMUNITY?
Police initially said there was no threat to the community, then later walked back that statement. Because the killer (or killers) is unknown, and because whether the attack was “targeted” is hazy, many in the community are fearful.
The University of Idaho has allowed students to switch to fully remote learning, and Dean of Students Blaine Eckles said Wednesday that less than half of the students left campus in favor of online classes.
The university has also hired an additional security firm to help with campus safety. Students can request escorts while on campus.
DID ANY OF THE VICTIMS RAISE SECURITY CONCERNS BEFORE THE ATTACKS?
Neither the university nor the police department have said whether any of the students reported unusual activity or expressed safety concerns in the months or weeks before the attack.
The police department has looked into reports that Goncalves may have had a stalker, but despite pursuing hundreds of tips, has been unable to verify that claim, according to a “ Frequently Asked Questions ” document released by the department.
WHAT ABOUT THAT ONE PERSON? OR SO-AND-SO?
Rumors, speculation and unfounded theories abound online, many targeting people that police have already said aren’t involved in the crime.
“There is speculation, without factual backing, stoking community fears and spreading false facts,” the police department wrote in a Facebook post Thursday evening. “We encourage referencing official releases for accurate information and updated progress.”
Police frequently hold back some information about criminal cases because releasing it could harm the investigation. Sometimes crucial evidence doesn’t become publicly known until after an arrest is made and the case goes to trial.
Detectives are looking for tips, surveillance videos from the area and other information that could provide context about the killings. They are asking that people call or email the police department with tips and upload any digital media to a special FBI website.