Authorities swat down rumors surrounding unsolved killings of 4 University of Idaho students

Dec 3, 2022, 2:00 PM | Updated: Feb 23, 2023, 1:10 pm

Four Dead University of Idaho...

A photo and the names of four University of Idaho students who were killed over the weekend at a residence near campus are displayed during a moment of silence, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, before an NCAA college basketball game between Idaho and Cal-State Bakersfield in Moscow, Idaho. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(CNN) — Authorities in a small Idaho city that had not recorded a murder in years are urging the public to be vigilant against rumors and conjectures surrounding the unsolved killings of four college students last month.

The stabbing deaths in a Moscow home near the University of Idaho’s main campus on November 13 have been shrouded in agonizing mystery, leading to apprehension amongst the campus community as the suspect or suspects remain on the loose.

“There is speculation, without factual backing, stoking community fears and spreading false facts,” the Moscow Police Department said in a news release Friday. “We encourage referencing official releases for accurate information and updated progress.”

Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Kernolde’s boyfriend, Ethan Chapin, 20, were likely stabbed multiple times in their sleep mere days before Thanksgiving break, police said. The horrific deaths have rattled Moscow, a college town of some 25,000 people which hasn’t recorded a single murder since 2015.

Nearly three weeks on, police have not located the murder weapon nor made any arrests. But in an attempt to clear up false information that’s been spreading about the case, Moscow police have debunked several theories in what they’re calling “rumor control.”

None of the victims in the quadruple homicide were tied and gagged, refuting online reports. A report of a “skinned” dog weeks before the killings is not connected to the case, according to police, and deceased animals left on a resident’s property elsewhere were determined to be wildlife activity.

Additionally, police noted the students’ killings are not related to two other stabbing incidents in neighboring states Washington and Oregon — in 1999 and 2021, respectively — which may “share similarities,” but “there does not appear to be any evidence to support the cases are related,” according to their news release.

Police also reassured the public that a September incident which involved an argument between a group of people walking on the University of Idaho bike path and a cyclist, who displayed a folding knife, is not connected to the students’ killings.

“The individual involved turned himself in, and charges were referred to the Moscow City Attorney’s Office,” police said.

And although police have said they don’t know who carried out the killings, they have released information eliminating some people as suspects, most recently a person listed on the lease of the residence where the killings happened, police said Friday.

“They have spoken to this individual and confirmed they moved out prior to the start of the school year and was not present at the time of the incident. Detectives do not believe this person has any involvement in the murders,” Moscow police said.

Police have also ruled out the two surviving roommates who were in house at the time of the killings and other people inside the house when the 911 call was made. The person who made the 911 call alerting authorities to the home after the killings has not been identified, police said Friday.

Goncalves and Mogen, two of the victims, were driven home by someone after the pair purchased food from a truck hours before they were killed — authorities have ruled out the driver as a suspect.

Additionally, a man seen in surveillance video from a food truck visited by Goncalves and Mogen, and another man the pair called “numerous times” in the hours before their deaths, were also ruled out as suspects by police.

Conflicting information

It remains unclear how close authorities are to releasing information about a potential suspect or suspects. “Only vetted information that does not hinder the investigation will be released to the public,” Moscow police noted Friday.

But some details released by authorities since the start of the investigation have required further clarification.

This week, Moscow police noted and backtracked comments from the Latah County prosecutor that said, “the suspect(s) specifically looked at this residence” and “that one or more of the occupants were undoubtedly targeted.”

Moscow police called that a “miscommunication,” and added: “Detectives do not currently know if the residence or any occupants were specifically targeted.”

On Thursday, Moscow police attempted to clarify the key conflicting information, once and for all.

“We remain consistent in our belief that this was a targeted attack, but investigators have not concluded if the target was the residence or if it was the occupants,” police said in a news release.

Authorities have also needed to clarify other information, including initially saying on November 15 that detectives believed the attacks were “isolated” and “targeted” and that the community was not under imminent threat. The following day, Moscow Police Chief James Fry said police were not definitive in concluding the public was not at risk.

Where the investigation stands now

The evidence collected so far includes 113 pieces of physical evidence, about 4,000 photos of the crime scene and several 3-D scans of the home, Moscow police said on Thursday.

Detectives have received testing and analysis of the crime scene evidence from Idaho State Police Forensic Services, and they will continue to receive the results of additional tests, according to police.

“To protect the investigation’s integrity, specific results will not be released,” police said.

Detectives also collected the contents of three dumpsters on the street where the house is located and seized five nearby vehicles to be processed for evidence, according to police.

As for the murder weapon — believed to be a fixed-blade knife — detectives contacted local businesses regarding knife purchases in the days leading up to the killings.

Investigators are also relying on a trove of public tips, photos and videos of the night the students died, including more than 260 digital media submissions that people have submitted through an FBI form, police said. Authorities have processed more than 1,000 tips and conducted at least 150 interviews to advance the case.

Further, multiple agencies and law enforcement personnel are investigating the homicides. More than 30 employees including detectives, patrol officers and support staff from the Moscow Police Department are working on the case, police said Friday in the news release.

The FBI has devoted 22 investigators in Moscow, 20 agents through the country and two investigators from the agency’s Behavior Analysis Unit, police said.

Plus, there are 20 Idaho State Police investigators assigned to Moscow, and an additional 15 uniformed troopers are patrolling the community. Forensic services and a mobile crime scene team from the state police are also working the case.

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Authorities swat down rumors surrounding unsolved killings of 4 University of Idaho students