Moscow is the kind of place where you can watch the world’s best young jazz musicians play each year. Where parents seldom worry about letting their kids walk around after dark. And where the Renaissance Fair is one of the social highlights of spring.
But this town of about 22,000, once named Paradise Valley, has been thrust into unfamiliar territory: coping with a violent tragedy more common in the big cities that many of Moscow’s residents chose to leave behind.
“We believe our community is a safe community,” said Moscow Police Chief Dan Weaver. “These sorts of things aren’t supposed to happen in Moscow.”
But they did.
First came a shocking murder-for-hire case in 2002, in which David J. Meister, 19, shot and killed 21-year-old Tonya Hart at her Moscow home. Two years later, a University of Idaho football player, 19-year-old Eric McMillian, was shot to death by two Seattle brothers, James and Matthew Wells. And earlier this year, John Delling allegedly shot and killed Moscow resident David Boss, 21, and is facing first-degree murder charges in Ada County, Idaho.
This weekend marked the biggest outbreak of violence in Moscow’s history.
A sniper killed two people, Moscow police officer Lee Newbill and First Presbyterian Church caretaker Paul Bauer, before turning the gun on himself.
Moscow, a normally quiet and somewhat liberal college town in the middle of a farming county, was rocked by the event, residents said.
“Part of the reason I moved up here from Salt Lake City was because it was a quiet college town,” said Iris Gillette, who moved to Moscow five years ago, also to be nearer to her grandchildren.
Idaho has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the nation, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The state is ranked near the bottom of the list, 41st nationwide.
Moscow is considered the second-safest place to live in Idaho based on crime statistics from the FBI, according to a real estate Web site, Homesurfer.com.
“It’s a small town with some recent big-town problems,” said Jim Kremer, a Latah county employee and 25-year Moscow resident. “This is probably the worst thing. We lost an officer, and that makes it the worst thing to happen in Moscow right there.”
Taco Time manager Aubrey Durant heard the news Sunday morning and asked the restaurant’s janitor to change the reader board to say: “Thoughts and prayers to all of Moscow and its officers.”
Durant said after years of peace in Moscow, the town has become more violent.
Moscow resident Brian Gottschalk said the recent shooting was “probably one of the oddest.”
Gottschalk and his wife, Donna – a lifelong Moscow resident – live just one block east of the Latah County Courthouse, where the shooting began.
The couple was awakened by rapid gunfire at the courthouse where more than 30 bullets were fired.
“We hid in the house and watched people run and walk by,” Donna Gottschalk, 43, said. “I had two teenagers out last night, and I called them both and told them not to come home.”
But the shooting hasn’t changed Gottschalk’s opinion of her hometown. She still feels safe.
“It’s a quiet town most the time,” Donna Gottschalk said.