MOSCOW, Idaho — More than a week after four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in a house near campus, the police chief leading the investigation said Sunday that police had not been able to answer many of the crime’s most pressing questions, such as how the victims’ roommates were not awakened during the overnight killings or where the killer might be now.
The few details that have been uncovered have only deepened the mystery of a crime that has unnerved students and residents in the college town of Moscow and left victims’ families trying to help piece together what happened.
The coroner who conducted autopsies on the four friends said that they were most likely asleep at the time they were attacked — possibly in their beds — and that some of the victims probably tried to fight back. But two surviving roommates appear to have slept through the killings, something that Chief James Fry of the Moscow Police Department said investigators still did not understand.
“I don’t even know that information at this point in time,” he said at a news conference. “That’s why we’re continuing to investigate.”
Three of the victims — Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; and Xana Kernodle, 20 — lived at the house where the attack occurred, while the fourth victim, 20-year-old Ethan Chapin, was there visiting his girlfriend, Kernodle.
Here is what else is known about the killings.
Two roommates survived the attack
Police said that while the four friends were being killed, two other female roommates were in the house but were not attacked.
Investigators suggested that they had slept through the killings. The house has six bedrooms, with two on each floor. Police said the victims were found on the second and third floors.
Police said that, when the roommates woke up, they called some of their friends to the house because they believed one of the stabbing victims on the second floor “had passed out and was not waking up.” Once the friends arrived, someone from the group called 911 just before noon, and police arrived and found the additional victims.
Police said they did not believe anyone who was in the house when the 911 call was placed was involved in the crime.
Police said the two surviving roommates had each been out of town, separately, on Saturday and returned to the home by about 1 a.m., before the four victims had arrived back from a night out.
Cathy Mabbutt, the Latah County coroner, said the victims all appeared to have been stabbed multiple times with a large knife, though no weapon has been recovered.
Mabbutt said she believed at least one victim, and possibly more, had tried to fight off the attacker.
“It’s such a horrific crime,” she said. “It’s hard to think that somebody, whether they live here or they were here, commits something like that and is at large.”
None of the victims showed signs of sexual assault, Mabbutt said, and toxicology reports have not been completed.
Two victims’ phones were used to call a friend early in the morning
There were seven unanswered phone calls made from the phone of one of the victims, Goncalves, to her former longtime boyfriend in the early morning hours Sunday, according to her older sister, Alivea Goncalves, based on phone logs she was able to download from the phone provider. Police said that Mogen had also made calls to the same number.
The first call to the man, Jack DuCoeur, was at 2:26 a.m., and there were six more over the next 26 minutes, with the final one at 2:52, Alivea Goncalves said. She said DuCoeur, also a student at the university, had missed the calls because he was sleeping and that her sister’s phone account did not show any other calls.
Alivea Goncalves said DuCoeur, who did not respond to a request to discuss the case, had been a childhood friend of her sister’s. She said that they had been dating for years until recently, when they decided to take an amicable break. Alivea Goncalves said she and her family “stand behind Jack 100% and know he absolutely had nothing to do with this at all.”
At a news conference, Fry said he believed the man that the women called did not have any connection to the crime.
Goncalves also said that the number of calls was not unusual: Kaylee Goncalves would frequently call people late at night and often until they picked up, even to ask a mundane question such as what she should have for a meal.
Bill Thompson, the top prosecutor in Latah County, said investigators were looking at cellphone tower data and social media information to try to determine who was in the immediate area at the time of the killings.
The victims had spent the night socializing
It had been a typical Saturday night in Moscow, with many students from campus going out to socialize after watching a University of Idaho football game.
Chapin and Kernodle, who had been dating since the spring semester, attended a party at the Sigma Chi fraternity from about 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. near the home where the attack later occurred, authorities said. Mogen and Goncalves had gone together to the Corner Club Bar about 11 p.m., staying there until 1:30 a.m.
All four friends returned to the rental home, south of campus, at roughly 1:45 a.m., police said.
Just before that, a livestream video from a popular late-night food truck captured Mogen and Goncalves about 1:40 a.m. The two mingled in the area, chatting and smiling before getting their food and departing. A “private party driver” gave them a ride home, police said. Goncalves’ sister said a neighbor’s surveillance camera showed her and Mogen arriving home at 1:56 a.m.
No one has been arrested
There have been no arrests, although police appear to have ruled several people out.
Those ruled out include a man seen in the video footage at the food truck, the man who gave Goncalves and Mogen a ride home, the two roommates who were in the house during the attack, the friends the roommates called to the home in the morning and Goncalves’ former longtime boyfriend.
Fry said Sunday that he also could not say whether the killer was still in town or had fled.
“I can’t say if the person’s here; I can’t say what community the person’s in,” he said.
Authorities have left open the possibility that there could be more than one perpetrator.
Investigators have been contacting local businesses to see if someone had recently purchased a fixed-blade knife from them.
Authorities have walked back earlier statements
In the first days after the killings, the Moscow Police Department downplayed residents’ fears about a killer being on the loose, saying on the day of the attack that the department “does not believe there is an ongoing community risk” and, two days later, that there was “no imminent threat to the community at large.”
Then, Wednesday — three days after the killings — Chief James Fry stepped back from the earlier assurances. “We cannot say that there is no threat to the community,” he said at a news conference.
The about-face was one of several contradictory comments from city and county officials.
Art Bettge, mayor of Moscow, had told The New York Times a day after the killings that the case was considered a “crime of passion,” but he later said he could not say for sure.
One consistent message from police is that the attack appeared to have been targeted.
Moscow had not recorded a murder in seven years
Moscow is a community of about 25,000 people on the Washington state border, and the university has 11,000 students.
The city had not recorded a murder in more than seven years. Students said in interviews that they normally felt safe walking around town late at night or leaving bikes unlocked around campus. But after the killing, many students left campus early for Thanksgiving break, worried about an apparent killer on the loose.
Some students who remained have started taking more precautions and walking around in groups. A coffee shop told patrons it was closing early so that employees could get home before dark.
C. Scott Green, the president of the University of Idaho, said Sunday that the campus was heightening security and also suggested that the campus may operate classes remotely after Thanksgiving break.
“We’re also planning for the very real possibility that some students aren’t comfortable returning to campus,” he said.
Here’s what we know about the victims
— Madison Mogen, who went by Maddie, was a senior from Coeur d’Alene who was majoring in marketing. Her grandmother, Kim Cheeley, said Mogen had always been a gentle and caring person who kept many long-term friendships and close ties with an extended family.
Mogen’s boyfriend, Jake Schriger, said she had been excited for graduation next year and talked about wanting to explore other parts of the world. Mogen always spread positivity and brought acts of kindness to others, Schriger said, adding that he hoped people remembered her for the love she had given to others.
“There’s no words that I can really describe her — how amazing she was and how wonderful of a person she was,” Schriger said.
— Kaylee Goncalves, who was from Rathdrum, Idaho, had been set to graduate early in December and planned to move to Austin, Texas, with one of her close friends in June. The friend, Jordyn Quesnell, said Goncalves had secured a position with a marketing firm and was excited to explore more of the country.
“We wanted that adventure,” Quesnell said. “I would be like, ‘Let’s go do this,’ and she’d be like, ‘Down!’ "
Alivea Goncalves said her younger sister and Mogen had served as bridesmaids for her wedding. Her sister, she said, still shared a dog with her former boyfriend, and the two had seemed likely to get back together.
— Ethan Chapin, from Conway, Washington, was one of three triplets and had spent much of Nov. 12, the day before the killings, with both of his siblings, who are also University of Idaho students, said their mother, Stacy Chapin. In the evening, they had all attended a dance together held by his sister’s sorority, she said.
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“My kids are very thankful that it was time well spent with him,” Stacy Chapin said. “He was literally the life of the party. He made everybody laugh. He was just the kindest person.”
Ethan Chapin played basketball in high school and was known by friends and family members for always having a big smile, ever since he was a baby. Stacy Chapin described her son as “just the brightest light.”
— Xana Kernodle grew up in Idaho but had spent time in Arizona in recent years, according to an interview that her father, Jeffrey Kernodle, gave to an Arizona TV station.
Kernodle told the station that his daughter was strong-willed and had enjoyed having an independent life in college.
He said his daughter had appeared to try to fight her attacker, an account backed up by Mabbutt, the coroner. Jeffrey Kernodle expressed shock that she could be killed while being with friends at home, and said he, too, had no idea who could have committed the attacks.
“She was with her friends all the time,” Kernodle said.
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