MOSCOW, Idaho — Police investigators swarmed a home near the University of Idaho Monday in the aftermath of an apparent stabbing attack that left four students dead.
Law enforcement officials gave few details about what led to the deaths that were discovered on Sunday, but described their work as a homicide investigation. The Latah County coroner told the New York Times that none of the deaths are considered suicides.
Moscow police Tuesday said that an “edged weapon” such as a knife was used in the attack.
The community should not be worried about safety, Moscow Mayor Art Bettge said in an interview, calling the deaths a “targeted, one-off situation.”
Investigators descended on the home, 1122 King Road, and taped off the area, which is near Greek Row. On Monday, Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson arrived to tour the scene. Officers spread out to search garbage cans and by early afternoon a search and rescue truck brought a dog to search the hill above the home.
The victims were Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene; Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum; Xana Kernodle, 20, of Avondale, Arizona; and Ethan Chapin, 20, from Conway, Washington.
Mogen and Goncalves graduated from Lake City High School in 2019. Kernodle graduated from Post Falls High School in 2020, and Chapin graduated from Mt. Vernon High School in 2021.
Police have not disclosed how the students were killed at the home just south of campus. They responded to the home around 11 a.m. Sunday after a caller reported an unconscious person.
Bettge called the tragedy “senseless acts of violence” in a statement expressing condolences to the families.
In an interview, he added, “the situation was not likely to be repeated,” before asking the community for patience as investigators work the complex case.
He told the New York Times the homicides were a “crime of passion.”
“It seems to have some of the hallmarks thereof,” Bettge said.
When asked about that statement by The Spokesman-Review, Bettge said he came to that conclusion by the process of elimination.
“We don’t really know what it was,” he added.
No one had been arrested as of early Monday afternoon.
“It’s going to be very slow moving due to the complexity of the situation,” Bettge said of the investigation. “Please bear with us.”
Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt told the New York Times that all the deaths were considered homicides and ruled out the possibility of murder-suicide.
Police initially put out an alert Sunday afternoon announcing that they didn’t believe there was an active threat.
Olivia Niemi, a junior and member of the University of Idaho student body government, told KHQ the deaths are “beyond imaginable” and felt throughout the entire community.
“No one would have ever imagined something slightly like this could have happened in Moscow, in such a small town, where everyone knows each other,” Niemi said.
Throughout her time in Moscow, Niemi has felt safe walking alone at night, but now she and others worry.
“It’s scary for my own safety, let alone anyone else who lives in the area,” she said.
The three girls were roommates, according to posts on their social media accounts. Chapin and Kernodle were dating, according to their social media pages.
Both Mogen and Goncalves graduated together from Lake City High School in 2019. And they were named to the university’s dean’s list for spring 2021.
Shon Hocker, superintendent of Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, called the deaths “heartbreaking.”
“We wish to convey our condolences to their families and friends, as well as their former classmates and teachers at Lake City High School and other schools they had attended,” Hocker said in a statement. “We join the University of Idaho community in mourning the tragic loss of all four UI students.”
According the university, Chapin was a freshman and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, located about a block and a half from where the students were found dead. Chapin was majoring in recreation, sport and tourism management in the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
Kernodle, a junior, was majoring in marketing in the College of Business and Economics and was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Mogen, a senior, was majoring in marketing and also a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. Goncalves was a senior majoring in general studies in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences and a member of the Alpha Phi sorority, according to her social media and the university.
The university canceled classes and by Monday evening police activity at the home slowed. A bouquet of flowers sat in front of the house, where string lights twinkled from an upstairs window.
Candles flickered outside of Mad Greek in Moscow’s downtown Monday evening, as co-workers of Mogen and Kernodle tearfully comforted each other.
The pair worked as servers at the restaurant, according to a post on Mad Greek’s Facebook page.
People sat at tables and stood chatting inside the warmly lit restaurant that was closed to the public as employees mourned.
In a statement posted to the UI’s Facebook page on Monday, university President Scott Green said the university had counselors available to help students and staff.
“Words cannot adequately describe the light these students brought to this world or ease the depth of suffering we feel at their passing under these tragic circumstances,” Green said. “No one feels that loss more than their families and friends. The university is working directly with those affected and is committed to supporting all students, families and employees as this event undeniably touches all of us.”
In his statement, Bettge wrote: “Our hearts and thoughts are with not only the victims and their families, but also their broader circle of friends, and the entire University of Idaho community.
“This tragedy serves as a sobering reminder that senseless acts of violence can occur anywhere, at any time, and we are not immune from such events here in our own community.”
The university is planning a vigil for Wednesday evening on the administration building lawn, said Kyle Pfannenstiel, a university spokesman.