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‘Targeted’ may not be ‘best word’ for Idaho college murders, Moscow officials admit

The Independent logo The Independent 11/30/2022 Rachel Sharp

Officials have now said that “targeted” might not be “best word” to describe the murders of four University of Idaho students – in what marks the latest walkback from investigators left baffled by the violent killings.

Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, were found stabbed to death in an off-campus home in Moscow, Idaho, on 13 November.

Two weeks on, the killer or killers are still at large with no suspects identified, no arrests made and the murder weapon still nowhere to be found.

From the outset of the investigation, authorities have insisted the attack was “targeted” – but have refused to reveal what has led them to that conclusion.

Officials are also staying silent around whether all of the four victims were intended targets or whether the killer targeted one victim, with the rest simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the early days of the investigation, Moscow Police even went as far as to insist that there was “no ongoing threat” to the wider community – despite having no suspect even on their radar.

Three days on from the killing, they then walked back that assertion, admitting that – with the perpetrator still at large – “there is a threat” and urging the public to stay “vigilant”.

Now, the local prosecutor is walking the claim that the killings were “targeted”, admitting it “perhaps isn’t the best word to use” to describe the brutal murders.

“It seems like the word targeted has different understandings for different people who are listening and perhaps isn’t the best word to use,” Latah County Prosecutor Prosecutor Bill Thompson told NewsNation on Tuesday.

“The bottom line is whoever is responsible for this is still at large – that can’t be changed.

“My understanding is that investigators believe that whoever is responsible was specifically looking at this particular residence but that’s all that they can offer at this point.”

Mr Thompson added that investigators were unable to confirm “at this point” if one or more of the students was the intended target.

“I don’t think they can say that at this point,” he said.

Two cars and a police vehicle sit outside the home where four University of Idaho students were murdered on 13 November. Police seized five cars from near the scene on 19 November (KTVB) © Provided by The Independent Two cars and a police vehicle sit outside the home where four University of Idaho students were murdered on 13 November. Police seized five cars from near the scene on 19 November (KTVB)

“That’s part of the investigation to determine who might have been the target.”

The prosecutor also confirmed that law enforcement still doesn’t have any suspects on its radar, admitting that “it could” take some time to catch the killer.

“I think it’s fair to say that there have been people of interest to the investigators and everyone that they’ve identified so far they’ve been able to exonerate. Perhaps, exonerate isn’t the best word. But they’ve been able to eliminate them as being an actual suspect,” he said.

“And we do not have a name of a person or persons who are actual suspects. That’s what they’re focusing on still.

“I’m not aware of any single person with a name that we’re focusing on, the investigators are focusing on.”

He added that “it could” be some time before the case is solved, “or it could break open any time”.

This admission will not be welcome news to the victims’ families or to the terrified students and local residents of Moscow, living in fear that the killer could be walking among them.

Vigils to honour the four victims are being held on the university campuses on Wednesday and concerns have been raised that the perpetrator could be among the attendees.

Mr Thompson told NewsNation that officials were aware of these concerns, saying: “We understand there is community concern and fear. What I can say is our detectives are on top of their game.”

The father of one of the victims revealed that his family was afraid to hold a funeral for his daughter for fear that the killer would show up at that.

A map of the last known movements of the four victims (Datawrapper/AP) © Provided by The Independent A map of the last known movements of the four victims (Datawrapper/AP)

Steve Goncalves told ABC’s GMA on Tuesday morning that “my wife’s biggest fear, part of the reason we didn’t have a funeral, is because she couldn’t be guaranteed that that monster was going to not be there”.

In the notoriously safe college town, there has been a surge in 911 calls in the aftermath of the murders, with terrified residents reporting multiple sightings of “suspicious people” as well as concerning incidents around the town.

The four victims are believed to have been stabbed to death in their beds at around 3am or 4am on 13 November with a fixed-blade knife, police said. There was no signs of sexual assault on any of the victims and the murder weapon has not been recovered.

Two of the victims were found on the second floor and two on the third floor of the home.

Kernodle and Chapin were at a sorority party at Sigma Chi house together and arrived back at the home at around 1.45am.

Goncalves and Mogen had spent the night at The Corner Club bar in downtown Moscow, before stopping by a food truck and then getting a ride home from an unnamed “private party”.

Investigators previously said that the two best friends also arrived home at around 1.45am but updated the timeline on Sunday to reveal that they arrived at the property at around 1.56am, citing “digital evidence”.

Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, took this photo together hours before they died (Instagram/Kaylee Goncalves) © Provided by The Independent Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, took this photo together hours before they died (Instagram/Kaylee Goncalves)

Two surviving roommatres were also out that night and arrived home at around 1am, police said. The two women, who lived in rooms on the first floor of the home, are believed to have slept through the brutal killings and were unharmed.

The horrific crime scene went unnoticed for several more hours, with police receiving a 911 call at 11.58am on Sunday, reporting an “unconscious individual” at the home.

The two other roommates had first called friends to the home because they believed one of the second floor victims was unconscious and would not wake up. When the friends arrived, a 911 call was made from one of the roommates’ phones.

Police arrived on the scene to find the four victims dead from multiple stab wounds.

While investigators are yet to identify any suspects, they have ruled out several people: the two surviving housemates, the man who was caught on camera with Mogen and Goncalves at a food truck in the downtown area before they headed home on the night of the slayings, the person who gave Mogen and Goncalves a ride home from the food truck, Goncalves’ former long-term boyfriend and the friends who were in the home when the 911 call was made have all been ruled out as suspects.

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