Nearly three weeks after four University of Idaho students were found savagely stabbed to death in bed, police have spent the latter half of this week repeatedly flip-flopping on a key detail in the hunt for their killer.
Twenty-year-old Ethan Chapin, 21-year-old Madison Mogen, 20-year-old Xana Kernodle, and 21-year-old Kaylee Goncalves were all found dead of multiple knife wounds after apparently being ambushed while they were sleeping on Nov. 13. Police initially described the brutal slayings as “targeted,” reassuring the local community in Moscow, Idaho, that there didn’t appear to be a wider threat to the public.
But in the nearly three weeks of investigation that followed, investigators were still unable to find a murder weapon, a motive, or even a potential suspect.
On Wednesday, police said the quadruple homicide may not have been “targeted” at all—the biggest development in the case in over a week. On Thursday, however, cops walked back that declaration—telling NBC News in a statement that it was a “targeted attack,” but cops remain unsure as to whether it was the students who were targeted or the house in which they lived.
“We remain consistent in our belief that this was indeed a targeted attack but have not concluded if the target was the residence or its occupants,” a spokesperson for the Moscow Police Department told NBC News.
That statement came after a release late Wednesday that addressed “conflicting information” that was “released over the past 24 hours.”
“The Latah County Prosecutor’s Office stated the suspect(s) specifically looked at this residence, and that one or more of the occupants were undoubtedly targeted,” the PD said.
“We have spoken with the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office and identified this was a miscommunication. Detectives do not currently know if the residence or any occupants were specifically targeted but continue to investigate,” police said.
Latah County prosecuting attorney Bill Thompson had said in an interview with News Nation that “investigators believe that whoever is responsible was specifically looking at this particular residence.”
The sister of one of the victims said earlier this week that the families were left baffled by police claiming the killings were “targeted.”
“It’s really difficult, especially because law enforcement is kind of throwing around this term ‘targeted.’ But we don’t know what that means, and it almost makes it feel alienating, because we don’t have any more information on that. I don’t know who that target was, I don’t know if it was all of them, if it was one of them. I just, I don’t know,” Alivea Goncalves, Kaylee Goncalves’ sister, told News Nation this week.
With a killer—or killers—still on the loose, students in Moscow and the community at large are left to grapple not only with the shock and brutality of the killings but also with whether the elusive suspect might be walking around among them.
“I think there’s a lot of paranoia and uncertainty, and people don’t know if it’s safe,” Carmen Weber, a U of I alumna, told the Idaho Statesman at a vigil for the slain students late Wednesday.
Hundreds of people, including the victim’s family members, showed up for synchronized vigils held across the state on Wednesday night.
Ben Mogen, the father of Madison Mogen, told mourners at the vigil in Moscow that he was grateful his daughter got to experience certain milestones in her life—making the university’s dean’s list and falling in love.
“I’m so glad that she got to just have at least a little taste of what it’s like to be in love with someone. I was really proud to call him my daughter’s boyfriend and maybe someday they would have gotten married,” he said of her boyfriend, according to the Statesman.
Steve Goncalves, Kaylee Goncalves’ father, recalled how close she and Mogen were: “They went to high school together. Then they started looking at colleges. They came here together. They eventually get into the same apartment together. And, in the end, they died together. In the same room, in the same bed.”
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