‘It was so close to us the whole time’: Neighbors and students of UI killing suspect Bryan Kohberger react to his arrest
Dec. 30, 2022 Updated Sat., Dec. 31, 2022 at 3:37 p.m.
Police Chief James Fry speaks during a news conference Friday at Moscow City Hall. Fry announced that Bryan Kohberger was arrested in Pennsylvania in connection with the Nov. 13 stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students. (Geoff Crimmins)
Seven weeks after the slayings of four University of Idaho students shocked the campus, police announced they believe the killer is a Washington State University graduate student arrested Friday in Pennsylvania.
Bryan Kohberger, 28, was arrested early Friday morning in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania State Police and court records. He is a criminal justice graduate student at WSU.
“No arrest will ever bring back these young students; however, we do believe justice will be found through the criminal process,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
The killings sparked a massive criminal investigation involving dozens of detectives from multiple agencies.
UI seniors Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum; junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington, were stabbed to death Nov. 13 at a rental home in Moscow. The three female victims lived in the rental house with two other women who police said were unharmed and not involved in the crime.
Mogen’s father, Ben Mogen, said his family is “so relieved” the man responsible has been caught.
“I’m just so appreciative of all the people that worked hard on this day and night, and that they knew what they were doing,” Mogen said. “Having faith in them this whole time was hard, but I’m just so glad that we had such a hardworking bunch of people doing what they do. I just hope they know how much the families appreciate them. … We’re pretty lucky.”
Mogen said he had never heard the suspect’s name before police shared it with him and was unaware whether his daughter knew Kohberger.
The news of a suspect came late Thursday night as the Mogen and Goncalves families were preparing for a celebration of life for the two best friends Friday afternoon. The families feared the killer would show up, Mogen said.
“I feel safe. I mean, there were times when we’d be coming home and I’m worried about my family and we’re all in the area and I didn’t know if … just not knowing anything about it was so just uneasy-feeling, every day and every night,” Mogen said. “It’s such a relief.”
Chapin’s family shared a similar sentiment.
“We are relieved this chapter is over because it provides a form of closure. However, it doesn’t alter the outcome or alleviate the pain,” the Chapin family wrote in a statement following the news conference. “We miss Ethan, and our family is forever changed.”
The Chapin family said it remained “confident” that investigators would solve the case.
“When we received the phone call last night, we congratulated them for their diligent work and service,” the Chapins wrote.
Fry thanked the various law enforcement agencies, the community, state, nation and media for their help in the “very complex and extensive case.” He said police received over 19,000 tips and conducted over 300 interviews.
“It was the dedication of (law enforcement agencies) and the persistence and the numerous hours that led to an arrest,” Fry said.
The police chief said “it was a fairly sleepless couple days” for many law enforcement officers leading up to the arrest.
While investigators released few details, they indicated the community is safer with Kohberger in custody.
“I do believe our community is safe,” Fry said when asked whether there are outstanding suspects, though he noted that vigilance is always important.
Fry said the police department is limited in the information it can share on Kohberger as the case is built against him. He would not share a motive, or whether Kohberger knew any of the victims. With that case being built, Fry told reporters that cleaning up the house was halted because of a legal request by the court. It wasn’t clear who made the request.
Few details were released in the weeks since the homicides, as investigators from the Moscow Police, Idaho State Police and FBI worked thousands of tips.
Fry addressed community frustration with the lack of details released in the month-plus since the killings, but said it could have hurt the investigation.
“We developed a clear picture over time and … the work is not done,” he said. “This has just started.”
Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said Kohberger faces charges of four counts of first-degree murder and felony burglary for allegedly entering the residence with intent to commit murder.
He implored the public to share tips about Kohberger to help his office strengthen the case against him by understanding “fully everything there is to know.”
The probable cause affidavit against Kohberger is sealed until he makes his first appearance in court, Thompson said.
Mogen said he is bracing for when those details become public.
“Everything is going to come in stages, and so we can start healing in some ways, but it’s going to be hard for so long hearing this stuff come out every day during the proceedings,” Mogen said. “I’m just preparing myself mentally and emotionally to take in all the stuff that’s going to be really hard to hear.”
Idaho State Police Col. Kedrick Wills also touched on the need to protect the investigation.
“These tragic murders took four young, vibrant lives from our community. Nothing we can do can bring them back,” but law enforcement can deliver justice by bringing the case “to a successful conclusion.”
Most recently, investigators were looking for a white Hyundai Elantra seen near the home on the night of the attack. Fry said that vehicle has been found, but the weapon used is outstanding.
Pennsylvania State Troopers along with other law enforcement officials arrested Kohberger at a home in Chestnut Hill Township in Monroe County, according to a news release from the state police. He was arraigned before the on-call Magisterial District Court judge and remains in Monroe County Correctional Facility pending extradition to Idaho.
Thompson said Kohberger will be held without bond if he is extradited to Latah County. Kohberger is scheduled for a court hearing Tuesday in Pennsylvania.
Thompson said Kohberger can waive extradition and voluntarily return to Idaho. If he does not waive extradition, Thompson said his office will initiate extradition proceedings.
“If we do that, it can take awhile for him to get here,” Thompson said.
The WSU Police Department on Friday helped Idaho law enforcement officials execute search warrants at Kohberger’s apartment and office, which are on the school’s Pullman campus, according to a university news release.
Authorities and yellow tape on the perimeter of one of the apartment buildings at Steptoe Village could be seen late Friday morning. The apartment complex is for graduate students and students living with families, according to the school’s website.
Two residents at Steptoe Village, Mahedi Hasan and Grant Harris, said they did not know Kohberger and described the complex as generally quiet.
”He was living just beside me,” said Hasan, who lives with his wife. “That’s always scary.”
Harris, who lives with his wife and their child, said he did not recall seeing Kohberger at the complex. Harris said Friday’s news of the arrest made Harris question safety precautions he may or may not have taken, like whether he locked his door when he left his apartment.
”It’s shocking that it was so close to us the whole time,” Harris said of Kohberger’s nearby unit.
The search warrants for Kohberger’s apartment and office were sealed as of Friday afternoon, according to court documents.
Moscow Police said on its Facebook page that authorities are executing other search warrants and searching other locations.
Kohberger graduated from Pleasant Valley High School in 2013, according to a school yearbook. He later worked as a part-time security officer for Pleasant Valley School District for some period of time ending in August 2021, according to records of a school board meeting. The school board did not immediately respond to questions about his role.
Before coming to WSU, Kohberger graduated from DeSales University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. In the spring of 2022, he received his masters of arts in criminal justice also from DeSales, a private Catholic University in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, according to the university’s website.
”As a Catholic, Salesian community, we are devastated by this senseless tragedy,” the university wrote in a statement on Kohberger’s arrest Friday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families during this difficult time.”
While working on his master’s degree, Kohberger researched how emotions and psychological traits influence decision-making when committing a crime, according to a research survey posted online through the university.
The Lehigh Valley News, a nonprofit online news site in Pennsylvania, reported that Kohberger was a student of DeSales forensic psychology Professor Katherine Ramsland, an expert on serial killers who has written dozens of books, including “How to Catch a Killer” and “The Mind of a Murderer.” She also has consulted with several TV shows focused on crime, including CSI, according to her online university biography. She wrote “Confessions of a Serial Killer,” a biography of Dennis Lynn Rader, who tortured and murdered 10 people, including a family of four in Wichita, Kansas, in 1974. Rader wasn’t arrested until 2004. The book was published in 2016.
Lehigh Valley News wrote that Ramsland confirmed Kohberger was her student but declined further comment.
Hayden Stinchfield said Kohberger was the teacher’s assistant in one of Stinchfield’s criminology classes. He seemed disengaged most of the time and was a harsh grader, Stinchfield said.
”He was definitely kind of a creepy guy,” Stinchfield said.
Stinchfield said Kohberger seemed more distracted and disheveled in the days after the killings, letting his facial hair grow out.
”We noticed distinctly, like, oh, he must be going through it. He’s, yeah, he’s looking a lot worse,” Stinchfield said.
Joey Famularo, another criminology student in one of Kohberger’s classes, said he “always seemed a little bit on edge.”
”We just assumed he was kind of shy,” Famularo said.
Famularo said Kohberger didn’t show up to class often enough to make much of an impression, but also noted his strict grading. Kohberger said he liked to challenge his students, Famularo said.
Around the time of the killings, Famularo said Kohberger shifted to almost rubber-stamp students’ assignments, though it’s hard to say whether the timing was coincidental because students had also recently confronted him about his grading.
Jasmine Lander, who graduated this month with a degree in psychology, agreed with other students that Kohberger was a tough grader. Kohberger was the teaching assistant for the 400-level criminal justice class she took in the fall.
She said that toward the end of the semester, the professor for the class indicated he was unhappy with the amount of work Kohberger was doing and had not been responding to emails.
”He didn’t really seem like he wanted to be there, and his effort kind of showed,” Lander said.
The killings “left a mark on our university, our community and our state,” University of Idaho President C. Scott Green said. But the school never lost faith the case would be solved, he said.
Kohberger has no significant criminal history in Washington or Idaho. He received an Idaho citation for not wearing his seatbelt in August.
Spokesman-Review reporter Orion Donovan-Smith contributed to this story.
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