Confusion deepens over whether any of the 4 Idaho students were targeted in fatal stabbings

Moscow, Idaho police said they do not know if 4 University of Idaho students killed in their off-campus home were targeted

ByTravis Caldwell and Jason Hanna, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Idaho police chief speaks out about college murders
The Moscow, Idaho police chief spoke about the murders of four college students with ABC News' Kayna Whitworth in his first sit-down interview.

MOSCOW, Idaho -- Detectives do not know whether one or more of the four University of Idaho students killed in their off-campus home last month were specifically targeted, police said Wednesday -- in what may be their strongest departure yet from their earlier statements.

Police say they're reacting specifically to information they say a prosecutor's office released this week about the killings in the college town of Moscow: that "the suspect(s) specifically looked at this residence," and "that one or more of the occupants were undoubtedly targeted."

That information released by the prosecutor's office "was a miscommunication," police said Wednesday.

"Detectives do not currently know if the residence or any occupants were specifically targeted but continue to investigate," the police statement reads.

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Details about what the prosecutor's office said this week weren't immediately available. CNN has reached out to the Moscow police and the Latah County Prosecutor's Office for clarification about Wednesday's police statement.

Wednesday's police statement also differs from statements police themselves have made earlier about whether the students were targeted.

The four students -- Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21 -- were found stabbed to death November 13 in an off-campus Moscow home, upending a town that hadn't recorded a single murder since 2015.

READ MORE | 'I have to have my justice': Dad of slain Idaho student pleads with public for help

On November 15, Moscow police said they preliminarily "believe this was an isolated, targeted attack and there is no imminent threat to the community at large," and that "evidence indicates that this was a targeted attack."

Yet the following day, police backtracked some of that, saying they couldn't actually say whether there was a threat to the public.

SEE ALSO | Idaho murders: Police seeing influx of 911 calls from fearful community

Still, as the investigation advanced, authorities publicly maintained investigators believed the killings were targeted, including during a November 20 police news conference.

Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies are still working to determine who is responsible for the killings. At least 150 interviews have been conducted and more than 1,000 tips from the public have been received, police say.

No suspect has been identified and the murder weapon -- believed to be a fixed-blade knife -- has not been found. Authorities said they have not ruled out the possibility that more than one person may be involved in the stabbings.

Students remembered at campus vigil

Wednesday's police statement came on a day the campus community gathered to pay their respects for the slain students.

The university community gathered at the ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center -- also known as the Kibbie Dome -- to honor the lives of the four students. School officials and three of the four families spoke about how the four would be missed after their sudden deaths.

"The circumstances that bring us here tonight -- they're terrible," said Stacy Chapin, the mother of Ethan Chapin. "The hardest part -- we cannot change the outcome."

READ MORE | University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in their beds and likely asleep, coroner says

Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves were friends since 6th grade, Steve Goncalves said.

"They just found each other, and every day they did homework together, they came to our house together, they shared everything," he said. "In the end, they died together, in the same room in the same bed."

"When I look at all of you guys, there's only one way for this to get a little better, to heal a little bit ... you are just going to have to love each other," Goncalves added.

Ben Mogen, the father of Madison Mogen, shared memories of her love for live music, her hard work ethic and how meaningful it was to him that she was able to experience love with her boyfriend.

While it's unclear how long the investigation will take or "the why in this horrific act," the community "will all go through this together," said Blaine Eckles, the university's dean of students.

He also encouraged everyone to "tell the fun stories, remember them in the good times and do not let their lives be defined by how they died, but instead remember them for the joy they spread and the fun times they shared while they lived."

Eckles also reminded students of the different resources available to them, like counseling, and to share their feelings with those around them.

The hours before the attack

Since the discovery of the attack, investigators have built a timeline of the four students' last known whereabouts.

On the night of the killings, Goncalves and Mogen were at a sports bar, and Chapin and Kernodle were seen at a fraternity party.

The following map details the night of November 12th into the early hours of November 13th, with the locations and approximate times of the victims' whereabouts.
City of Moscow Police Department

Investigators believe all four victims had returned to the home by 2 a.m. the night of the stabbings. Two surviving roommates had also gone out in Moscow that night, police said, and returned to the house by 1 a.m.

Police initially said Goncalves and Mogen returned to the home by 1:45 a.m., but they later updated the timeline, saying digital evidence showed the pair returned at 1:56 a.m. after visiting a food truck and being driven home by a "private party."

SEE ALSO | Idaho college murders: A timeline of the killings of 4 University of Idaho students

The next morning, two surviving roommates "summoned friends to the residence because they believed one of the second-floor victims had passed out and was not waking up," police said in a release. Somebody called 911 from the house at 11:58 a.m. using one of the surviving roommates' phones.

When police arrived, they found two victims on the second floor and two victims on the third floor. There was no sign of forced entry or damage, police said.

Investigators do not believe the two surviving roommates were involved in the deaths.

A coroner determined the four victims were each stabbed multiple times and were likely asleep when the attacks began. Some of the students had defensive wounds, according to the Latah County coroner.

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