Searching for Answers in Idaho – Inside Higher Ed | Team Cansler

Few replies have surfaced more than a week after four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in a home less than a mile from campus. The incident has terrified the community and local police are looking for leads.

The four victims – Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21 — were found dead at an off-campus residence on Nov. 13. While the investigation continues, details are scant and the threat level unclear; Local police initially indicated that the community was not in danger, but have since reversed that statement as the killer is still at large.

Many students fled campus early for Thanksgiving. As the intermission begins, the search for the killer continues, with state and federal agencies stepping in to assist local police. But even with the federal government involved, the investigation seems painfully slow, leaving students and community members on edge after a horrifying murder.

The investigation

For the peaceful university city of Moscow with around 25,000 inhabitants, the killing of four students is an exceptional phenomenon. The University of Idaho’s crime statistics reveal a campus with the same safety and behavioral concerns as other US institutions, but largely free of violent crime.

Now an unknown killer with unclear motives has cast a shadow over Moscow.

The victims lived lives like many college students. On Saturday night, November 12, Chapin and Kernodle went to a fraternity party; Goncalves and Mogen visited a sports bar and then a food truck. All four victims returned home before 2 a.m. But sometime during the night, normality turned to tragedy. All four were apparently stabbed in their sleep. Their bodies were discovered the next morning.

Local authorities found there were no signs of burglary or sexual assault. Some of the victims had defensive injuries. Three of the victims lived in the home; the fourth, Chapin, was with Kernodle. Two other housemates who were at home during the stabbing were unharmed. Police said they were not suspects and appear to have overslept the attacks.

Although local authorities have described the killings as targeted, they have refused to specify why or who they believe the target of the deadly attack, citing the ongoing investigation.

“It is a complex and horrific crime that will take time to solve,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said in a news conference on Sunday, providing an update on the investigation.

More than 30 members of the Moscow Police Department are working on the case, along with 20 state police investigators — and another 15 state police officers serving the community — and 22 local and national FBI investigators, including two behavior analysts. According to local police, authorities have received more than 146 leads and conducted over 90 interviews.

The university’s response

The University of Idaho increased security in the wake of the killings, providing on-campus counseling services and therapy dogs.

A candlelight vigil is planned on campus for November 30.

In both a statement from the university and at Sunday’s press conference, University of Idaho President Scott Green emphasized the need for flexibility for students in processing the tragedy.

“The University of Idaho’s primary focus now is to support our students and meet their needs,” said Green. “Police continue to inform us that this was a targeted attack, but we realize this is not good enough for some of our students who wish to complete the remainder of their semester remotely until the person who committed the crime is in custody. We also hear that some students want to go back and to Moscow because they find solace in the structure of the class and being with their friends and professors.”

Green said the university will be ready to work with students returning to campus as well as those continuing the semester remotely. He asked the professors to prepare for both options.

Kelly Quinnett, a professor in the Department of Theater Arts and chair of the faculty Senate, said students will have a number of options based on their needs. She noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty have been forced to go online and build a suite of online teaching tools that can now be leveraged. That can mean full online classes or hybrid classes where some students are in-person and some are remote.

Quinnett said Moscow is surrounded by farmland and nearly 100 miles from all major airports. She called it “a dear, sweet town rocked by this tragedy.”

Brian Smentkowski, professor of political science and founding director of the university’s Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning, said the center had drafted documents to help faculty members teach in times of crisis as students are still reeling from recent events.

“There is no patent solution. Our faculty is quite exceptional. Many have proactively reached out to their students to express their concern and commitment to them. Many have adapted best practices for using technology to provide educational opportunities for our students, no matter where they are. Many chairs have reminded us to think of each student as we teach the rest of the semester. And they lead with care, compassion, understanding and empathy. This is important right now. And this ties directly to the choices we make about teaching and learning. And this directly impacts our educational priorities in a very positive way,” Smentkowski said via email.

A fatal fall

The same weekend that violence at the University of Idaho killed four people, three football players were also shot dead at the University of Virginia. The alleged perpetrator – Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., a UVA student and former football team member – was quickly arrested and charged with triple count of second-degree murder.

The UVA and Idaho incidents came just over a month after a fatal shooting at the University of Arizona in which a professor was allegedly killed by a former graduate student.

Just last weekend, a University of New Mexico student was shot dead on campus by New Mexico State University basketball player Mike Peake. According to data from The Albuquerque Journalthat the murder was in self-defense since the victim and others lured Peake onto campus. Peake was shot, then returned fire, killing the alleged attacker, the newspaper reported.

The shooting happened just before the men’s basketball game in New Mexico and New Mexico State. The competition between the two rival colleges was postponed after the shooting.

Now, with justice elsewhere, the University of Idaho awaits peace and closure amid holiday tragedy.

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