University of Idaho student deaths: Days when no suspect in murders has been identified have sparked unease in the community
Five days after four University of Idaho students were found stabbed to death in their off-campus home, a deep sense of concern and sadness grips the community as authorities work to identify a suspect.
The university’s often-crowded parking lots had many empty spaces Thursday after scores of students decided to return home or leave the area after the quadruple murder shocked the university city of Moscow, Idaho, last weekend.
“Everyone just went home because they’re scared. … It’s definitely unsettled on campus right now,” student Nathan Tinno told CNN.
Tinno, who said the community is trying to approach the tragedy with sympathy, added that the fact that no malefactor was caught in the case has increased the sense of fear on campus.
Four college students – Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21 – were found stabbed to death Sunday at their shared home off campus near the university.
The victims were found on the second and third floors of the home, Idaho State Police Communications Director Aaron Snell told CNN on Friday.
Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt told CNN she saw “a lot of blood on the wall” when she arrived at the scene. She confirmed that there were multiple stab wounds on each body – likely from the same weapon – but did not disclose how many wounds were located or where most were.
Puncture wounds on the hands of at least one victim appear to be defensive wounds, according to Mabbutt. She said there were no signs of sexual assault on the bodies during the autopsies.
Two other roommates were in the home at the time of death — were not injured or held hostage, according to university president Scott Green.
Investigators are speaking to the two surviving housemates, Snell told ABC.
“They may be witnesses, they may be victims,” Snell said in an interview with ABC’s Kayna Whitworth. “They may be the key to this whole thing.”
Police said they had no suspects. Snell said no one “was included or excluded as a person of interest and/or suspect.”
Investigators hope the housemates will help them “figure out what happened and why.”
“That’s her story to tell,” he said.
Mabbutt said the cause of death was manslaughter. The autopsies have been completed and the results will be released when they become available, a worker from Spokane County’s Medical Examiner’s Office told CNN.
The killings, which took place just over a week before Thanksgiving, have stirred up shattering feelings among students as authorities investigate leads to identify a suspect or locate a murder weapon.
“It’s so dark. It’s like a dark cloud over everything,” said Ava Driftmeyer. “We’re going as fast as we can.”
Driftmeyer, who said she lives near where the four students were killed, described how the situation was difficult to process, both mentally and emotionally.
“I just don’t even think it’s that far yet. … Do you know how crazy that is? And the fact that there are no answers is the worst feeling ever,” she said.
Police said Wednesday they could not definitively determine the public posed no risk, retracting an earlier statement that the attacks were targeted.
“We cannot say that there is no threat to the community,” Moscow Police Department chief James Fry said during a news conference on Wednesday. “And as we’ve said before, please stay alert, report suspicious activity and be aware of your surroundings at all times.”
The university also reminded students that psychological support is available to them.
“We’re all still working through our grief and a range of emotions. Add to this the frustration and concern that no one has been arrested for these crimes,” Green said in a statement.
“Students, you are encouraged to do what is right for you. Whether you go home early or stay in class, you have our support,” Green added.
With many details remaining unclear, one of the victim’s parents revealed his child’s struggle with the attacker.
Xana Kernodle’s father said he spoke to his daughter at midnight on Sunday, just hours before she was attacked and killed. Citing an autopsy, he said she fought off her attacker to the end.
“Bruises, ripped open by the knife. She’s a tough kid,” Jeffrey Kernodle told CNN affiliate KPHO/KTVK in Avondale, Arizona.
Kernodle said Xana has kept in regular contact with her family. “I think the last time we heard from her was around midnight and she was fine,” he told the channel, adding that he doesn’t understand why his daughter and her roommates were killed in their own home.
“They just hung out at home. Xana was only home with her boyfriend,” he said.
Just hours before the four students were killed, Goncalves had posted a photo of the group with the caption “a happy girl surrounded by these people every day” and added a heart emoji.
The scant information available on the case frustrates those closest to the victims and the campus community. However, video showing two of the victims has helped police get a clearer picture of the hours leading up to the killings.
In a live stream on Twitch from a food truck called Grub Truckers, Mogen and Goncalves were last seen alive ordering $10 worth of carbonara around 1:40 a.m. local time in Moscow on Sunday. While they waited about 10 minutes for their food, they chatted to each other and other people standing by the truck.
Joseph Woodall, who manages the food truck, told CNN the two students did not appear to be in any distress or danger.
Chapin and Kernodle were at a party on campus Saturday night, Fry said. All four students returned home after 1:45 a.m. Sunday morning, Fry added.
Later Sunday morning, the four were killed at their home, authorities said. Police responded to the residence after receiving an 911 call around noon reporting someone was unconscious.
When the police arrived at the house, they entered a grisly, bloody crime scene.
“It was a pretty traumatic scene to find four dead college students in a dorm,” coroner Mabbutt told CNN affiliate KXLY earlier this week.
All four were pronounced dead at midday and police have not revealed who made the call to 911.
“They were smart, they were vigilant, they were careful and it all happened anyway,” Goncalves’ older sister Alivea said in a statement on behalf of the family to the Idaho Statesman.
“No one is in custody and that means no one is safe. Yes, we are all heartbroken. Yes, we grab all. But stronger than all these feelings is anger. we are angry You should be angry.”