Moscow residents are boosting their personal security as authorities fail to identify a suspect in the grisly slayings of four University of Idaho students.
Over two weeks have passed the students were stabbed at a rental home near campus. Many in the community are still anxious and don't comprehend how the perpetrator hasn't been caught.
The college town of roughly 26,000 people in North Idaho hasn't seen a homicide since 2015, when a gunman killed three and injured one.
"It's really a safe community," Moscow Mayor Art Bettge told the Idaho Statesman in the wake of the attack. "And when these things happen, it's bad, really bad. We'd like to think of ourselves as being a safe place."
The four victims in the killings early Nov. 13 were U of I seniors Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d'Alene, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum, who were close friends; and junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington, who were dating. The three women lived in the house, while Chapin was staying overnight with Kernodle.
In a news release Sunday, Moscow police said that since the attack the department has noticed an increase in reports of unusual circumstances and requests to check on the welfare of loved ones.
"We understand there is a sense of fear within our community," police said.
The agency also reminded residents to call 911 before notifying family or friends in a life-threatening emergency. Several hours after the four students were killed, two surviving roommates who slept through the attack summoned friends to the residence before contacting authorities.
Police said the women believed one of the second-floor victims had passed out and was not waking up.
Students explore options for self-defense
David Scott, a U of I freshman, lives in an apartment off campus. He told the Statesman he's been looking into various self-defense options since the stabbings.
Scott said it takes him about 30 minutes to walk to campus, which he usually does early in the morning before the sun rises. After attending classes and working a part-time job at the university, he heads back home, often when it's already dark outside. In November, the sun sets at around 4 p.m. in Moscow.
"I've always wanted to get a handgun," Scott said. "But I haven't really had a reason to get one until now. The main thing I've been hearing from people is to keep a firearm or something else for self-defense."
Scott said many residents are now carrying pepper spray. Last week, the local Walmart on West Pullman Road was sold out of the chemical. The store doesn't sell handguns but another retailer in town, Tri-State Outfitters, does.
Employees at Tri-State declined to answer questions about increased demand for self-defense weapons and said corporate instructed them not to speak with reporters. Walmart employees also forwarded inquiries to a corporate media line. Inquiries submitted to Walmart's media line and Tri-State's contact form were not immediately returned.
Since the killings mid-November, police have been canvassing area businesses asking if a fixed-blade knife had recently been purchased.
Scott Jutte, general manager of Moscow Building Supply, told the Statesman previously that police had visited the store more than once to ask whether the retailer sold anyone Ka-Bar brand knives, also known as K bar knives. The home improvement store doesn't carry the blades but Jutte said he's familiar with the brand, which originally designed knives for use by American troops during World War II.
Detectives working the homicide investigation have since said they believe the students were killed with a "fixed-blade knife."
U of I offers students remote lectures, flexibility
Following the Thanksgiving break, classes resumed Monday on U of I's campus despite some students choosing to stay away for the remainder of the semester. The university is allowing students to finish the last three weeks in person or remotely.
The school said on its website that it plans to be flexible and accessible to all students.
"As the investigation continues, we will better know how to proceed in the new year," U of I President Scott Green said at a Wednesday news conference. "We will endeavor to find the balance among safety concerns, the need to grieve and the long-term needs of all of our students and employees."
Joan Campbell, a professor in U of I's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, told the Statesman in an interview that she held classes in person and on Zoom the week following the homicides.
She recorded the lectures and uploaded them to Canvas, where grades and assignments are stored, so students could access the content remotely. She said she plans to continue with that format.
Campbell also said she's been advised to give an "incomplete" if a student just can't finish any of their coursework.
"My interpretation is that I should continue to meet with students in person who would like to be here, since some of them want to continue to take classes in person," she said. "But there's also those students who are very distraught and can't be here."
Campbell said she has at least one student who knew the victims. Even those who didn't have told her they feel afraid and are concerned for their personal safety, she said.
"I am giving anybody who says, 'I just can't cope with it' the opportunity to view the recorded lectures or take an incomplete if they need to," Campbell said. "I'm still trying to feel my way around what I'm going to do for the final."
Safety alarms donated to women on campus
Kerry Uhlorn, an alum of the Delta Gamma sorority at U of I, started a fundraiser to provide personal safety alarms for active members of the chapter. The campaign quickly took off and raised around $20,000, which Uhlorn has used to purchase She's Birdie key-chain alarms for every woman involved in Greek life or living in a residence hall on campus.
The alarms, when activated, produce a loud siren and flashing strobe light designed to deter an attack, according to the company's website.
Each of the victims in the killings were members of Greek life on campus. Mogen and Kernodle were both members of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Goncalves was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and Chapin was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
A Delta Zeta alum and former employee of the university, Shannon Kelly, told the Statesman she donated to the fundraiser to bring a sense of security to women on campus.
"While I'm proud to play a part, it breaks my heart that this has to be a thing," Kelly said. "Some people have said, 'well, it's not pepper spray' and 'it's not this or that' but for a lot of students on campus this is a great start."
She said her chapter's alumni organization is discussing whether it could buy the alarms for its new freshman class each year.
While the community mourns the loss of four students, Kelly said it also mourns a sense of safety that was lost in the attacks.
"Moscow felt like the safest place in the world for so many of us and regardless of what threats may or may not still be in the community, there's going to be a change, including in feelings of safety," Kelly said. "And that makes me very sad. It's not going to be the place where people leave their doors unlocked anymore."
Longtime Moscow resident Sara Beth Pritchett said she hopes people in the community can stay safe without living in fear. Pritchett co-owns One World Café, a coffee shop downtown.
"We are extending our support in any way we can," Pritchett told the Statesman.
Another local coffee shop, Café Artista, announced it would close early for the foreseeable future so staff can get home in the daylight.
Rumors and speculation fuel uncertainty
The Moscow Police Department, Idaho State Police and the Latah County Sheriff's Office have addressed numerous rumors and questions surrounding the stabbings, including a report of a dog being attacked with a knife elsewhere in town, which authorities say is unrelated.
Moscow police also said Saturday that the stabbings are not tied to a double stabbing in Pullman, Washington, in 1999 as well as a double stabbing in Salem, Oregon in 2021.
In a news release Monday, police said a February 2022 death in Moscow is not related to the quadruple homicide investigation. According to police, the Latah County Coroner's Office ruled that death to be from an overdose.
Officials also said rumors that a red Mustang parked on South Deakin Street was being processed as part of the investigation were not true and the vehicle "is not connected to this incident."
At the latest news conference Wednesday, Moscow police Capt. Roger Lanier acknowledged detectives have been unable to validate reports of Goncalves having a stalker but said the department would continue to seek information regarding it.
There are also some details police said they simply won't be providing to the public to "maintain the integrity" of the investigation. Among those details are how the perpetrator may have gained access to the home and why police are confident to continue labeling it a "targeted attack" without elaborating.
"You're going to have to trust us," Lanier said.
Police are still asking anyone with information about the incident to contact the tip line at 208-883-7180.
"Your information, whether you believe it is significant or not, might be a piece of the puzzle to help investigators solve these murders," police said in the Monday news release.
Scott said the killings, coupled with the fact that the killer remains at large, have made him feel less safe at home than he once did. The former boy scout said many people are wondering how they would've fared in the situation, and what they could do to prepare for something similar.
"On campus, a lot of people don't talk about it and are trying to stay in good moods," Scott said. "But tensions are high."
Candlelight vigils planned for Wednesday
To honor the four slain students, the university has scheduled multiple candlelight vigils to occur simultaneously at various locations across the state on Wednesday.
At its Moscow campus, U of I is planning a vigil for 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time in the ASUI-Kibbie Activity Center. The vigil was originally scheduled to be outside but was moved indoors because of recent weather forecasts, the school said in a news release Monday.
A vigil in Boise is planned for 6 p.m. Mountain Standard Time in front of the U of I Water Center at the corner of Front Street and South Broadway Avenue.
U of I Idaho Falls, Idaho State University and College of Eastern Idaho have also planned a vigil for 6 p.m. MST in the cafeteria located in Building Three on the College of Eastern Idaho campus in Idaho Falls.
The vigil will also be livestreamed at uidaho.edu/live.
Moscow police share little new information on U of I killings, address stalker story
What's the latest on University of Idaho killings, investigation? Here's what we know
Moscow police: University of Idaho killings not linked to stabbings in Oregon, Washington