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‘You’re seeing things that humans probably shouldn’t see’: Killings of 4 UI students leave mental toll on officers

Nov. 19, 2022 Updated Sat., Nov. 19, 2022 at 10:45 p.m.

Moscow police Chief James Fry speaking at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon.  (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)
Moscow police Chief James Fry speaking at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – While family, friends and the Moscow community continue to grapple with the devastating killings last week of four University of Idaho students, law enforcement officers are not left unscathed.

“It’s a pretty horrific scene, and you’re talking about the lives of four young people, and you have direct involvement with that,” said Aaron Snell, communications director at Idaho State Police.

Snell said Moscow police and others assigned to the case are stressed from working long hours to uncover possible clues, including new details released Saturday night about the 911 call that led to the discovery of the bodies. They carry those thoughts and gruesome images of the crime scene home with them.

“You’re seeing things that humans probably shouldn’t see,” Snell said.

Moscow police Chief James Fry said he is more concerned than usual about the mental health of his officers and detectives working the case, which left Ethan Chapin, 20; Xana Kernodle, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; and Madison Mogen, 21, dead in what Fry has called a “targeted, isolated” attack one week ago at a home off campus.

There are no suspects. Fry is holding a press conference at 3 p.m. Sunday to provide an update on the investigation.

He said Moscow police gave one officer time off last week to reconnect and clear their head. Fry said officers and detectives are working 14 to 18 hours, which is normal at the start of a homicide investigation.

“You’re going to work long hours for a while until you get that break,” he said.

Fry said resources are available for his staff, including the Palouse Area Peer Support Team, which officers utilized this week because of the toll the investigation has taken.

Moscow police Capt. Anthony Dahlinger said the team includes Moscow police, the Pullman Police Department and the Washington State University Police Department. Certain employees from each department received mental health and wellness training so they can assist officers from the three agencies with any mental hurdles they encounter. The peer support team can refer officers to further treatment by a mental health professional if needed, he said.

Dahlinger said the departments received a federal grant more than a year ago to develop the program, which he said has been gaining steam across the country.

“It’s gained not only popularity, but they’re finding that it’s working,” Dahlinger said.

Dahlinger said officers are often reluctant to seek counseling or therapy and are more apt to speak to a peer about something bothering them.

He said larger agencies have the financial resources to create a team within their department, but the three Palouse departments teamed up to provide mental health services. A Moscow officer, for example, can choose to seek help from someone with mental health training in any of the three departments.

Fry said police did not talk about mental health issues when he first started with Moscow police in 1995, but now they are more aware of how the job affects them.

Fry has served as chief since 2016. He’s been a part of about a half-dozen homicide cases in his 27 years at the department. Fry said he believes last weekend’s homicides are the most in one setting in the college town’s history.

Fry said the student killings have been the most publicized of the homicide investigations he’s worked, but “they’re all bad.” The last Moscow murder was in 2015, when John Lee shot and killed three people and injured another. Lee was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“You don’t rank ’em … They’re bad equally because someone lost their life,” he said.

Dahlinger said you never know how each crime scene is going to affect an officer.

“This is a tough one as they all are, so we have our eyes on everybody, making sure that we’re giving everybody an opportunity to take care of themselves and look after each other and give them the resources that they need,” he said.

New details on 911 call, driver released

The 911 call that led Moscow police officers to the home where they found the four dead University of Idaho students came from a cellphone of one of the surviving students who lived at the King Road residence, police said.

In a Facebook post Saturday night, Moscow police declined to say who placed the call Nov. 13, citing the ongoing investigation. The call came from inside the residence.

Two other women who lived at the home were inside when the attack happened, police said. The women, who are not believed to be suspects, were uninjured and are cooperating with the investigation, Fry has said.

“Roommates are always, I think, important pieces, but everybody in this case is important at this time,” Fry said of the investigation.

The Facebook post said detectives believe the two women were out in Moscow, separately, but returned home by 1 a.m. The pair did not wake up until an unspecified time later that day.

The call came in shortly before noon, but Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt said the students died in the early morning hours of Nov. 13. The caller “requested aid for an unconscious person,” but police found four dead people when they arrived.

Goncalves and Mogen were at a downtown Moscow bar the night of Nov. 12 and then went to a downtown food truck before returning home via a private vehicle at 1:45 a.m. Nov. 13. Police said in the post the driver is not believed to be a suspect.

Chapin and Kernodle attended a party at Chapin’s fraternity, Sigma Chi, late Nov. 12 before going to the King Road residence at 1:45 a.m. the next day.

Mabbutt said the students were found dead in their beds and were likely asleep when they were attacked. She said the students were stabbed multiple times based on the autopsies performed by the Spokane County Medical Examiner. Mabbutt told CNN there were defensive wounds on the hands of at least one student.

Fry said Saturday police have not found the weapon used.

Mabbutt said there were no indications the students were sexually assaulted.

Detectives also “are aware of multiple phone calls” from Mogen and Goncalves to a man before they were killed, police said, and are investigating that.

Detectives are seeking surveillance video taken from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Nov. 13 from businesses and residences in the area bound by these roads: Taylor Avenue to the north, Palouse River Drive to the south, U.S. Highway 95 to the east and the University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden to the west. Tips, pictures and videos can be submitted to, or call the tip line at (208) 883-7180 for assistance.

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