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‘Everyone is still reeling’: Families of slain students and University of Idaho community grieve together at vigil

Nov. 30, 2022 Updated Thu., Dec. 1, 2022 at 1:11 p.m.

By Nick Gibson The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – The University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome, usually roaring with the sounds of excited fans, was a somber place Wednesday night.

Snow drifted down as students quietly shuffled inside to remember the lives of four classmates killed nearly two weeks ago. As they stepped onto the turf surface of the stadium, volunteers passed out pins that read “Vandal Strong” and “Vandals Heal Together.” The sound of stifled crying swept through the crowd as the parents of the victims shared memories.

“What you are feeling is real: the sadness, the confusion, the worry and the anxiety,” Dean of Students Brian Eckles told the crowd. “And it’s OK to have those feelings. I have them, too. We all do.”

On the morning of Nov. 13, police were called to 1122 King Road, just blocks from campus. There, they found the bodies of Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle, Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves. The students were stabbed to death in their beds.

Few details have been released, and investigators say they have no suspects.

The vigil was the first mass outpouring of grief. A few small vigils have been held, and Chapin’s family already held a funeral. A celebration of life for all four students is planned for 11 a.m. Friday at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls.

Originally scheduled to take place the week following the attack, the vigil was rescheduled to accommodate students who left town early. While many students have opted not to return to the university for the remainder of the semester, other returned solely to mourn alongside their fellow Vandals.

Sophomore Courtney Dixon said she plans on finishing the semester online, but felt it was important to be with her fellow students. Many of her friends are still struggling with fear, anxiety and grief.

Chapin’s mother, Stacy Chapin, took the stage to share a little about her son. Ethan was a triplet, and his siblings Maisie and Hunter are students at the university. Alongside their father, Jim Chapin, the family watched the vigil with the other victims’ families from a press box inside the stadium.

Chapin said her family has always been close and lived an active life together. Ethan and his siblings were nearly inseparable, she said, illustrated by the time all three had their wisdom teeth removed together. She recalled fond memories of hiking trips they took when the kids were younger, summers spent on the lake listening to country music, Ethan’s favorite, and the day the triplets found their new home in Moscow.

“The circumstances that bring us here tonight, they’re terrible,” Chapin said. “The hardest part, we cannot change the outcome. As a family, as the Chapin family, it is important that we share Ethan’s legacy and talk about the impact he made in his short 20 years. This is where we choose to focus our energy, because we are Ethan’s voice.”

Chapin asked the students present to refocus their energy toward achieving their goals because that is what Ethan would have wanted.

She thanked those in attendance, the college community for its support and law enforcement for its efforts in solving the case before concluding with one final message:

“We are eternally grateful that we spent so much time with him,” Chapin said. “And I want to remind you, that that’s the most important message that we have for you and your families, is to make sure you spend as much time as possible with those people, because time is precious and something you can’t get back.”

While the family of Ethan’s girlfriend and fellow victim Xana Kernodle was not able to attend Wednesday’s vigil, the families of Mogen and Goncalves also gave statements regarding their lost loved ones.

Kaylee’s father, Steve Goncalves, shared that he considered Madison his daughter as well. He said he went looking for inspiration online to prepare a statement for the vigil when he came across something on the Seven Wonders of the World. He said he prayed to “his girls” and they responded, saying there should be an eighth wonder – the relationship a father has with his daughter.

“You start wondering the minute they put that baby in your hands what you’re going to do,” Goncalves said. “You wonder how you’re going to feed them and how you’re going to take care of them. You wonder why your wife is yelling at you for feeding the baby a hamburger, then you wonder how you’re going to make this life the best opportunity for both of us.”

Goncalves said having a daughter changed his whole perception of the world, and that he would not have it any other way. He said he is grateful Kaylee was with Maddie in their final moments, after the two had spent so much of their lives together, from middle school to high school to the big move down to Moscow from Kootenai County.

“They shared everything,” Goncalves said. “They went to high school together, then they started looking at colleges.

“They came here together and eventually they moved into the same apartment together. And in the end, they died together. In the same room, in the same bed. And it’s a shame; it hurts.”

Maddie’s father, Ben Mogen, echoed Goncalves, sharing how proud he always was of his daughter. Mogen said that oftentimes when people would ask him to share a little about himself, he would go on and on about his daughter who attended UI, his daughter who was smart, kind and funny.

He joked that most people would walk away without knowing anything about him, but everything about Maddie.

Maddie was an only child and the first grandchild to her grandparents, so every success she had was celebrated by the whole family, Mogen said. He shared how he loved taking his daughter and Kaylee to concerts growing up, and fondly remembered taking the girls to see Mac Miller in concert after scrambling to find tickets.

UI freshmen Spencer Sinay and Will Schimmelman said the vigil was an important opportunity for the community to grieve together, since school and the town have not felt normal since the attack.

“It’s a small community, so, yeah, we all felt it,” Sinay said. “There’s still a lot we don’t know. You can tell everyone is still reeling.”

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