By REBECCA BOONE and NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — Four University of Idaho students found dead in an off-campus home were targeted, and the killer or killers used a knife or other “edged weapon” in the attack, police said Tuesday.
The Moscow Police Department made the announcement in a statement, adding that investigators were working to establish a timeline of the victims’ activities before they were killed. Police said the killings likely occurred early Sunday morning, and that the bodies were found around noon.
The students’ violent deaths left the community of Moscow and the University of Idaho campus reeling, and left some worried about safety in the rural north-central town.
The students’ deaths were considered to be “an isolated, targeted attack and there is no imminent threat to the community at large,” according to police, who earlier said evidence from the scene led them to believe there was no broader risk. Police provided no information about that evidence or why they believe the victims were targeted.
Autopsies expected to be completed later this week could provide more information about how the victims were killed.
Investigators were “following all leads and identifying persons of interest” in the case, the news release said.
Police discovered the students’ bodies Sunday as they responded to a report of an unconscious person at a home steps away from the campus. The victims were identified as Ethan Chapin, a 20-year-old from Conway, Washington; Madison Mogen, a 21-year-old from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Xana Kernodle, 20, from Avondale, Arizona; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, from Rathdrum, Idaho.
Photos on Instagram depicted the group as close-knit friends who had known each other for a long time. All were members of sororities or fraternities on campus. Kernodle and Chapin were dating.
In one post, Kernodle wished Chapin a happy birthday, writing, “life is so much better with you in it, love you!” The caption was accompanied by a photo of Chapin in a chef’s hat with Kernodle on his shoulders and wearing mouse ears.
Several weeks ago, Goncalves posted a series of photos showing her and Mogan growing up together. “I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to be the main character in all my childhood stories,” she wrote.
“I love you more than life! My best friend forever and more,” Mogen replied.
Another photo, apparently posted hours before they died, showed the four smiling and posing, seemingly carefree, along with two other friends. Chapin had his arm draped over Kernodle’s shoulders, and Mogen was perched on Gonclaves’ shoulders.
“One lucky girl to be surrounded by these people every day,” Goncalves wrote.
Signs of the community’s grief and uncertainty were scattered throughout the town on Tuesday.
A makeshift memorial with flowers, candles and notes was set up on a table in front of the Mad Greek restaurant in downtown Moscow where Kernodle and Mogen had worked. Four white pillar candles, each inscribed with the name of a slain student, burned in the center of the table.
The restaurant’s owner wrote on Facebook that Mad Greek would close for a few days so staffers, friends and family could grieve “this incredible loss.”
“Xana and Maddie have been servers here for several years and brought so much joy to our restaurant and all of those they encountered,” the owner, Jackie Fischer, wrote. “You will be greatly missed. Thank you for being a part of our family/team, and for helping me so much over the years.”
A flag flew at half-staff before the Sigma Chi fraternity, where Chapin was a member, just a short walk from the home where the four were found slain.
The six-bedroom rental home remained surrounded by crime scene tape on Tuesday but had little sign of activity inside. A Latah County Sheriff’s deputy stood guard near the driveway, and some Idaho State Police officers were also at the scene.
Moscow police Captain Anthony Dahlinger said police were “trying to identify a suspect” but would not say if investigators had anyone in mind.
“All I can point to is our media release today,” he said, adding that he didn’t know when any new information would be released.
“These things are dynamic and constantly changing,” Dahlinger said.
The University of Idaho canceled classes on Monday and said additional security staffers would be available to walk students across campus. Still, the lack of arrests and scarcity of information about the deaths prompted many students to leave campus days before the Thanksgiving break was scheduled to begin.
The university postponed a planned vigil until after students return from Thanksgiving break.
The students who remained showed little sign of apprehension.
“I feel pretty safe,” said student Nicole June on Tuesday. “I believe the police can do their job.”
Nathan Lannigan, 18, said he was surprised with reports that there is no ongoing threat since a perpetrator has not been captured.
“That’s a quick judgement, I think,” Lannigan said.
In a Monday memo, University of Idaho President Scott Green urged university employees to be empathetic and flexible, and work with students who wanted to spend time with their families.
“Words cannot adequately describe the light these students brought to this world or ease the depth of suffering we feel at their passing under these tragic circumstances,” Green wrote of the slain students.
The university said Chapin was a freshman, and Kernodle was a junior majoring in marketing and a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Mogen was a senior also majoring in marketing who belonged to Pi Beta Phi, and Goncalves was a senior majoring in general studies and a member of the Alpha Phi sorority, the university said.
Boone reported from Boise, Idaho. AP researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York and AP reporter John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.