‘We cannot say there is no threat to the community:’ Police break silence on U of I slayings

Moscow police chief James Fry addresses reporters Wednesday afternoon.

In their first news conference since four University of Idaho students were found slain in an off-campus house, law enforcement officers conceded that the killer remains at large.

“We do not have a suspect at this time, and that individual is still out there,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry told reporters late Wednesday afternoon. “We cannot say there is no threat to the community.”

But Fry again said that police consider the killings an isolated attack — an assertion that law enforcement has made since Sunday’s slayings came to light. But Fry would not explain why law enforcement believes this to be the case.

“We take the totality of the things that we see … and try to make the best educated decision that we can,” Fry said.

Joined by U of I officials and Kedrick Wills, director of the Idaho State Police, Fry summed up the investigation into the deaths of the four students: 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.

  • Fry said two other roommates were at the home Sunday morning, but were unharmed.
  • He said police have not recovered a weapon. Previously, police have said the students were stabbed “with an edged weapon such as a knife.”
  • Police found no signs of forced entry at the home, and the door was open at about noon Sunday, when police arrived at the scene.
  • Police were first called to the scene at about noon Sunday, responding to a report of an unconscious individual. But Fry declined to identify the 911 caller, saying it could compromise the investigation.
  • Police are trying to piece together a timeline of the events leading up to the slayings, which occurred early Sunday morning. Chapin and Kernodle were at a party on campus before the slayings, while Goncalves and Mogen were at an off-campus bar, returning home at about 1:45 a.m.
  • When asked whether he would describe the slayings as “a crime of passion,” as Moscow mayor Art Bettge had suggested Monday, Fry was noncommittal. “We’re looking into every aspect of this. … I’m not going to stipulate that this is one thing or another.”

The 30-minute news conference came three days after news of the slayings sent shock waves through the U of I community. Since Sunday, the law enforcement community has said little about their investigation — prompting some students to leave the Moscow campus, and sparking a growing backlash on social media.

The demand for information was readily apparent. As Wednesday’s news conference opened, nearly 7,200 people watched a livestream on the U of I’s YouTube channel.

The news conference represented a departure. As recently as Tuesday night, police issued a prepared statement, saying they had shared everything they could about the case. But on Wednesday afternoon, Fry told reporters, “The reality is, I probably should have been standing here a day or so ago.”

Speaking briefly — and fighting back tears — U of I President C. Scott Green called the crimes “simply beyond comprehension,” and mourned the victims. “Their loss has been devastating, and they were bright lights in the community.”

Classes resumed Tuesday, even as an unknown number of students have left the campus, days before the university’s Thanksgiving week fall break. Green said all student absences will be excused — and said the U of I wanted to keep the campus open for students who wanted to continue lab work or semester projects, or simply remain in classes with friends.

“We felt that this was the best way to respond,” Green said.

Consulting with Moscow police, Green said he felt confident in the decision to keep the campus open.

While continuing to downplay the potential threat to the public, Fry urged the community to remain vigilant.

“There’s still an individual out there who committed four horrible, horrible crimes,” he said.


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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