A few details slowly emerge in U of I student homicides

(UPDATED, 1:25 p.m., with U of I’s decision to postpone a candlelight vigil honoring the victims.)

As classes resumed at the University of Idaho Tuesday morning, police revealed a few more details into the slayings of four students living off-campus.

The students were evidently stabbed “by an edged weapon such as a knife,” the Moscow Police Department said in a statement Tuesday.

The Mad Greek, a Moscow restaurant, posted this photo of Madison Mogen and Xana Kernodle on its Facebook page Monday. Mogen and Kernodle worked as servers at the restaurant.

No weapon has been recovered and no suspects are in custody. And on Tuesday, police said they are trying to recreate a timeline leading up to Sunday’s deaths while “identifying persons of interest.” However, police again said they don’t believe the community faces an ongoing threat — after the U of I had briefly urged students to shelter in place Sunday.

Anyone with information about the students’ deaths is asked to contact the Moscow Police Department at 208-883-7054.

“Based on information from the preliminary investigation, investigators believe this was an isolated, targeted attack and there is no imminent threat to the community at large,” the department said Tuesday.

Four students were found dead Sunday in a house on King Road, near the U of I campus. The victims are Ethan Chapin, 20, a freshman from Mount Vernon, Wash.; Kaylee Goncalves, 21, a senior from Rathdrum; Xana Kernodle, 20, a junior from Post Falls; and Madison Mogen, 21, a senior from Coeur d’Alene.

Since Sunday, police have released few details about the students’ deaths, with Tuesday’s statement providing a first glimpse into a possible cause of death.

“Autopsies are scheduled to be completed later this week and will hopefully provide more definitive information on the exact cause of the deaths,” police said Tuesday.

Police have offered no information on a possible motive — an area of confusion Monday.

Ethan Chapin

Speaking to the New York Times Monday, Mayor Art Bettge described the deaths as “a crime of passion.” In a subsequent interview with the Idaho Statesman, Bettge backtracked.

“It could be any of a number of things,” Bettge told the Statesman. “The police don’t know yet. I haven’t been told.”

The U of I canceled classes Monday. But on Tuesday morning, it was not immediately clear how many classes were in session — or how many students have stayed on campus.

“It is too early to know,” university spokeswoman Jodi Walker told Idaho EdNews. “Just getting started today.”

In a statement Monday, university President C. Scott Green suggested some students would be leaving campus. “We ask our employees to be empathetic, flexible and to work with our students who desire to return home to spend time with their families,” he said.

The U of I will be closed next week for fall break.

On the U of I’s social media pages, questions and criticisms were interspersed with expressions of condolences. Some commenters second-guessed the decision to resume classes — and criticized the university and police for providing few details and sending mixed messages about the investigation.

Kaylee Goncalves

“As a mother to two current students who were close to the victims, it seems appropriate to cancel classes this week, for the safety and emotional support of all,” one Instagram commenter said Monday. “Please allow the students to grieve and take care of themselves without academic penalties.”

“I understand this is an ongoing investigation and details can’t be released, but the misleading information that has been given out is incredibly confusing,” Alan Olsen wrote on Instagram.

“It just feels like our community leaders and officials are giving the ‘all clear’ but not providing much substance,” Bryan Foutch, a Moscow resident and former U of I student, said on the university’s Facebook page Monday.

U of I senior Jimena Martinez told Monica Carrillo-Casas of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News that she was steering clear of campus.

“I haven’t set foot on campus and decided long before President Green canceled classes Monday that I would not be attending this week,” Martinez told Carrillo-Casas.

But as classes resumed Tuesday morning, the U of I postponed an event to memorialize the homicide victims.

“As a great number of students have already left the Moscow campus, a candlelight vigil that was previously being considered for tomorrow, Nov. 16, is being rescheduled,” Dean of Students and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Blaine Eckles said in an email to students. “It will be held after Thanksgiving break, during the week of Nov. 28, so that all students who wish to attend are able to do so.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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