As University of Idaho students leave town in the aftermath of the unsolved bloody killings of four students near the campus, Moscow Police continue to say there’s no threat to the community while they also implore residents to stay vigilant.
“Until this case is completely resolved, we ask the community to continue to be vigilant, alert, report suspicious activity and help us to be the eyes and ears of our community,” the police department wrote in a statement Tuesday night.
Investigators have yet to arrest anyone in what they say was an attack with an “edged weapon such as a knife.”
“There was a lot of blood,” said Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt. “It’s was a very sad scene.”
The department refused to answer questions Tuesday related to the slayings of Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20. Mogen, Goncalves and Kernodle were roommates.
The police department addressed community safety concerns in a statement Tuesday evening.
“We hear you, and we understand your fears,” the department wrote. “We want you to know that we, like you, have been devastated and distressed by these young lives that were cut short.”
The department went on to reaffirm the attack was “targeted” and they don’t believe there’s an ongoing threat to the community, before saying the department cannot provide more information about why they believe that’s the case.
“At this time, we have shared every piece of information that we can without compromising the ongoing investigation,” the department wrote.
That answer did not satisfy the family of Goncalves, whose sister Alivia Goncalves told the Idaho Statesman in a statement that she doesn’t believe the community is safe.
“They were smart, they were vigilant, they were careful and this all still happened,” she wrote. “No one is in custody and that means no one is safe. Yes, we are all heartbroken. Yes, we are all grasping. But more strong than any of these feelings is anger. We are angry. You should be angry.”
The department said it hopes to release more information Wednesday.
Students, parents remain fearful
A few houses down from the crime scene, a parent packed up their student to take them home as other students nearby loaded up their own cars on Tuesday.
While the university canceled classes Monday, classes resumed Tuesday. Campus remained quiet with few students on the grounds.
Hailey Schroeder, a junior, said she was sad but doing OK, as she headed into the student union building.
She is “heartbroken that someone could do this.”
Schroeder doesn’t feel safe on campus and plans to head home to Boise on Wednesday, she said.
“I just want to be with my family,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Schroeder wished the police would explain why they don’t think there’s a threat on campus.
“If they could at least disclose some information as to why, he/she/the killer is not a threat,” Schroeder said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Daina Haguas questioned whether she should even go to class Tuesday but ultimately headed out across campus.
“This whole tragedy is unreal,” Haguas said. “It feels wrong going to class right now.”
She too was thinking about leaving early for fall break. Haguas said she doesn’t feel safe walking alone at night right now.
“The fact that someone did this,” Haguas said. “The grief doesn’t end.”
Eslie King, a senior, said she knew the girls who were killed through Greek life and campus clubs.
They were all “really amazing people” and positive influences on campus.
King and Mogen were members of the Society of Human Resource Management Club together. Mogen worked hard, taking on an internship and organizing club speakers, King recalled.
“They were the sweetest girls ever,” King said.
When Anna Flynn of Coeur d’Alene heard about the situation on campus, she was concerned for her two stepchildren who attend the university.
Flynn and her husband drove down to Moscow on Monday night to pick up their freshman daughter, Lindsey Angelo. Her nerves calmed down when police said there wasn’t an ongoing threat, but after learning a killer hasn’t been arrested, Flynn was thankful they brought their daughter home.
“Certainly, we’re glad she’s home now knowing that they don’t actually know who did it,” Flynn said.
Their son, who is in ROTC, stayed on campus, leaving his parents a bit worried.
“It’s kind of weird thinking, is this person in class with them?” Flynn said. “Are they going to do something else?”
With so many students leaving early for fall break, the university postponed the vigil for the victims planned for Wednesday until after Thanksgiving, said Kyle Pfannenstiel, a university spokesman.
Moscow Police Department spokesman Capt. Anthony Dahlinger declined to answer questions beyond the scope of the agency’s Tuesday morning news release when reached later that day.
“All I can speak to is what we put in the press release this morning,” he said.
He declined to answer questions about community safety beyond repeating that the homicides were an “isolated targeted incident.”
With the lack of information released by investigators, speculation about the homicides on social media has grown. Dahlinger declined to speak on the topic.
“The integrity of the case is of paramount importance,” he said.
Autopsies of the victims are scheduled for later this week and will “hopefully provide more definitive information on the exact cause of death,” the department wrote in Tuesday’s news release.
Mabbutt, a local attorney, said the coroner’s office contracts with the Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office to provide autopsies. Once those are completed, Mabbutt will make official rulings.
While Mabbutt has yet to rule an official cause of death, she indicated the cause likely will be stabbing. She does not believe toxicology reports, which can take four to six weeks, will be relevant “in the actual manner or cause of death.”
Investigators continue to say they believe the deaths are an isolated incident and there is no “imminent threat” to the community.
“I do trust our police department to be honest about this,” Mayor Art Bettge said Tuesday morning of investigators assessment that there’s no ongoing threat to the public.
He acknowledged the community’s frustration over a lack of information but said he is assuming police have evidence the crime doesn’t extend beyond the house where the students died. Bettge has not been briefed by police, he said.
The lack of information from investigators likely is meant to protect future prosecution of the case and prevent the suspect from knowing which direction the investigation is headed, Bettge said.
“You don’t want the perpetrator to know what’s coming along,” Bettge said.
When asked if he thinks the killer is still out in the community, Bettge said, “that would be the conclusion that I would draw.”
Bettge encouraged community members to reach out for help early if they are struggling to deal with the tragedy and encourage people to wait for information from police before speculating.
A team of Idaho State Police officers descended on the crime scene Tuesday morning. They declined to answer questions.
Investigators said they are continuing to work to identify a person of interest, reconstruct the victim’s activities leading up to their deaths, and establish a timeline of relevant events, the department wrote. The Idaho State Police along with “other state and federal law enforcement partners,” continue to investigate, police said.
Sandra Barker, public affairs specialist at the FBI in Salt Lake City, confirmed that the federal agency is assisting in the investigation.
Friends of the victims posted on social media Tuesday sharing memories of the group.
Maya Hippenstiel met Kernodle in their hometown of Coeur d’Alene shortly before college. Once at the University of Idaho they became close friends.
“She could fill any room with light and laughter, her presence naturally comforting,” Hippenstiel wrote in a text. “She was the type of person that could make anyone laugh. She was rarely serious.”
Hippenstiel said she hopes the community keeps Kernodle’s memory alive, adding “it’s what she deserves.”
Reporter Nick Gibson contributed to this story.
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