Police have released some new, key details from their investigation into the killing of four University of Idaho students that has rocked the small town of Moscow, Idaho.
Since news of the deaths broke, Moscow police have been reticent to provide details in the case, despite assuring community members that the incident was a targeted attack that poses “no imminent threat to the community at large.”
Parents and family members of the four dead students pushed back on the police response, criticizing the lack of available information into the deaths and questioning if there truly is no broader community risk as the offender remains at large. As of Wednesday evening, police still do not have a suspect in custody following the Sunday homicides.
Authorities said they continue to believe the attack was targeted but walked back a previous statement that there was no threat to the public while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
In a Wednesday press conference, Moscow Police Chief James Fry gave an incomplete timeline of the incident to reporters, admitting that a press conference should have been held a day or two earlier.
He said that the four victims, Ethan Chapin, 20; Xana Kernodle, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, had been attending different events around the University of Idaho before returning home early Sunday morning. Chapin and Kernodle had been attending a party on campus while Mogen and Goncalves were at a nearby bar.
Chapin didn’t live in the house with the three other victims, but he was spending the night with his girlfriend, Kernodle, his mother, Stacy Chapin, told ABC News.
Police Chief Fry said that sometime early Sunday morning, the four students were “stabbed with a knife.” Fry added there was no sign of forced entry in the house and they have not yet located the murder weapon.
At around noon, police got a 911 call about an unconscious person and arrived at the home where they found the four deceased individuals.
Fry said two other roommates were in the home when police arrived on the scene and police believe the roommates were there at the time of the killings. Fry said the other roommates were not injured but did not elaborate on whether they were being considered as suspects.
Police did not have an answer for why the 911 call reporting the incident came so many hours after police believe the killings occurred, and why the caller said there was an unconscious person instead of four stabbed individuals. Police refused to answer media questions about the identity of the 911 caller.
When reporters asked what the roommates may have witnessed on the night of the killings, Fry responded, “I’m not going to go into what they shared.”
“We are looking at everyone,” said Idaho State Police Col. Kedrick Willis during the press conference. “Every tip we get, every we lead we get — there is no one we’re not going to talk to. There is no one we’re not going to interview.”
Police also recanted previous comments about the killings posing no threat to the community, amid ire from University of Idaho students, who have abandoned the campus in droves ahead of American Thanksgiving, and the victims’ families.
“We do not have a suspect at this time, and that individual is still out there,” Fry said during the press conference. “We cannot say there is no threat to the community.”
Autopsies were performed Wednesday in nearby Spokane, Wash., and Idaho State Police and the FBI were also working the case, Fry said.
Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt said the autopsies have been completed and she will confirm what details she can release with law enforcement on Thursday.
“Gruesome,” Mabbutt told KHQ. “I’ve never seen anything like this in the 16 years I’ve been in this position.”
In a Tuesday press release, police said they “have shared every piece of information that we can without compromising the ongoing investigation.”
Anger from victims’ family members
The lack of information about the case has angered some of the victims’ family members, who have spoken out about the tight-lipped police response.
“There is a lack of information from the University of Idaho and the local police, which only fuels false rumors and innuendo in the press and social media,” wrote Jim Chapin, the father of Ethan Chapin, in an email to AP News.
“The silence further compounds our family’s agony after our son’s murder,” Chapin said. “For Ethan and his three dear friends slain in Moscow, Idaho, and all of our families, I urge officials to speak the truth, share what they know, find the assailant, and protect the greater community.”
The family of Goncalves issued a warning to whoever was behind the killings.
“To whomever is responsible, we will find you. We will never stop. The pain you caused has fueled our hatred and sealed your fate,” the family said in a tweeted statement. “Justice will be served.”
Meanwhile Aubrie Goncalves, Kaylee’s sister, posted a message on Instagram urging students to leave.
“Your grades are severely less important than your lives. I wish all the students of U of I safety and peace,” she wrote a few hours before the police news conference. “You guys are not safe until this sicko is found. If the person who did this is capable of killing four innocent people, they are capable of killing more.”
Moscow is a town of about 25,000 in the Idaho Panhandle, some 80 miles south of Spokane. According to the Idaho Statesman, the town hasn’t seen a killing since 2015.
News of the slayings prompted many of the 11,000 students to leave the Idaho campus early for Thanksgiving break.
University of Idaho president Scott Green also spoke at the news conference and said the school will remain open the rest of the week because some students found comfort in being on campus with faculty and classmates. But the school was also giving excused absences to anyone who feels more comfortable leaving early.
“We will support each other as we grieve,” Green said, his voice breaking as he read out the four names. “We just want justice for these victims.”
— With files from The Associated Press