University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in their beds and likely asleep, coroner says

'We're leaving as fast as we can': Community reels with unease after 4 Idaho students killed

ByAya Elamroussi and Veronica Miracle, CNN, CNNWire
Friday, November 18, 2022
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The two surviving roommates of four University of Idaho students who were found dead in a house near the Moscow, Idaho, campus, could be "key" to the case.

Four University of Idaho students who were found dead in a rental house Sunday were stabbed to death in their beds and likely were asleep, the Latah County Coroner said Friday.

The four victims were likely asleep, some had defensive wounds, and each was stabbed multiple times with a a "pretty large knife," the coroner said, adding that there was no sign of sexual assault.

"It has to be somebody pretty angry in order to stab four people to death," Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbut told a cable news channel. The victims were stabbed in the chest and upper body, the coroner said.

Efforts by The Associated Press to reach Mabbutt by telephone Friday were diverted to an Idaho State Police spokesperson, who did not immediately return messages.

Mabbutt's comments expanded on the autopsy reports released Thursday, which concluded the four students were murdered by being stabbed to death.

At this time in the investigation, detectives do not believe the two surviving roommates or the male in the Grub Truck surveillance video are involved in this crime, police said in a news release Friday. Additionally, online reports of the victims being tied and gagged are not accurate, police noted, and the identity of the 911 caller has not been released.

'We're leaving as fast as we can': Community reels with unease after 4 Idaho students killed

Five days after the students were found stabbed to death, a deep sense of apprehension and grief is affecting the community as authorities work to identify a suspect.

The university's often-packed parking lots had many empty spots Thursday after scores of students decided to return home or leave the area after the quadruple homicide last weekend shocked the college town of Moscow, Idaho.

"Everybody kind of just went back home because they're scared. ... It's definitely uneasy on campus right now," student Nathan Tinno told CNN.

Tinno, who said the community is trying to approach the tragedy with sympathy, added that fact that no perpetuator has been caught in the case has elevated the sense of fear on campus.

Four college students -- Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21 -- were found stabbed to death Sunday in an off-campus home near the university. Police noted Friday that is was previous reported that Chapin also lived at the residence, but it has since been determined that he was only visiting.

The victims were found on the second and third floors of the home, Idaho State Police Communications Director Aaron Snell told CNN Friday.

Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt told CNN she saw "lots of blood on the wall" when she arrived at the scene. She confirmed there were multiple stab wounds on each body -- likely from the same weapon -- but would not disclose how many wounds nor where most were located.

Stab wounds on the hands of at least one victim appear to be defensive wounds, according to Mabbutt. She said there was no sign of sexual assault on the bodies during the autopsies.

Two other roommates were inside the home at the time of deaths and were found uninjured, Moscow Police Department Chief James Fry said earlier this week.

Investigators are speaking with the two surviving roommates, Snell told ABC.

"Potentially they are witnesses, potentially they are victims," Snell said in an interview with ABC's Kayna Whitworth. "Potentially they're the key to this whole thing."

Police have said they don't have a suspect. Snell said no one has been "included or excluded as a person of interest and/or a suspect."

Investigators hope the roommates will help them "figure out what occurred and why."

"That's their story to tell," he said.

Police ask public to 'stay vigilant'

The causes of death has been determined a homicide, according to a statement by Mabbutt. The autopsies are completed, and the findings will be released when available, an employee at the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office told CNN.

The killings, which happened little more than a week before Thanksgiving break, have instilled harrowing sentiments among students as authorities investigate leads to identify a suspect or locate a murder weapon.

"It's so dark. It's just like a dark cloud over everything," Ava Driftmeyer said. "We're leaving as fast as we can."

Driftmeyer, who said she lives near where the four students were killed, described that it's been a difficult situation to process, both mentally and emotionally.

"I just don't even think it's like set in yet. ... You know how insane this is? And the fact that there's no answers is like the worst feeling ever," she said.

Police said Wednesday they could not definitively determine that the public was not a risk, backtracking an earlier statement that the attacks were targeted.

"We cannot say there's no threat to the community," Moscow Police Department Chief James Fry said Wednesday during a news conference. "And as we have stated, please stay vigilant, report any suspicious activity and be aware of your surroundings at all times."

The university also reminded students that mental health support is available for them.

"We are all still working though our grief and a range of emotions. Compounding this is the frustration and concern that no one has been arrested for these crimes," Green said in a statement.

"Students, you are encouraged to do what is right for you. Whether this is going home early or staying in class, you have our support," Green added.

Victim's father says she fought for her life during attack

As many details remain unclear, one of the victim's parents revealed his child's struggle with the attacker.

The father of Xana Kernodle said he spoke with his daughter midnight Sunday, just hours before she was attacked and killed. Citing an autopsy, he said she fought off her attacker through the end.

"Bruises, torn by the knife. She's a tough kid," Jeffrey Kernodle told CNN affiliate KPHO/KTVK in Avondale, Arizona.

Kernodle said Xana stayed in regular communication with her family. "I think midnight was the last time we heard from her, and she was fine," he told the station, adding that he doesn't understand why his daughter and her roommates were killed in their own home.

"They were just hanging out at home. Xana was just hanging out at home with her boyfriend," he said.

Just hours before the four students were killed, Goncalves had posted a photo of the group with the caption, "one lucky girl to be surrounded by these ppl everyday," adding a heart emoji.

New timeline details emerge

The scant information available regarding the case has been frustrating those closest to the victims as well as the campus community. Yet a video showing two of the victims has helped police get a clearer idea of the hours leading up to the homicides.

In a live Twitch stream from a food truck called Grub Truckers, Mogen and Goncalves were last seen alive while ordering $10 worth of carbonara around 1:40 a.m. local time Sunday in Moscow. As they waited for about 10 minutes for their food, they chatted with each other as well as other people standing by the truck.

Joseph Woodall, who manages the food truck, told CNN the two students did not seem to be in distress or in danger in any way.

Chapin and Kernodle were at a party on campus Saturday night, Fry said. All four students returned home early Sunday sometime after 1:45 a.m., Fry added.

Later Sunday morning, the four were killed inside their home, authorities said. Police responded to the residence after receiving a 911 call around noon reporting that someone was unconscious.

When police arrived at the home, they walked into a grisly, bloody crime scene.

"It was a pretty traumatic scene to find four dead college students in a residence," coroner Mabbutt told CNN affiliate KXLY earlier this week.

All four were pronounced dead at noon, and police have not revealed who made the 911 call.

"They were smart, they were vigilant, they were careful and this all still happened," Goncalves' older sister, Alivea, said in a statement on behalf of the family to the Idaho Statesman.

"No one is in custody and that means no one is safe. Yes, we are all heartbroken. Yes, we are all grasping. But more strong than any of these feelings is anger. We are angry. You should be angry."

Detectives working on the University of Idaho homicides are seeking additional tips and leads to further the investigation.

The Moscow Police Department released a map Friday showing a rough timeline of events leading up to the deaths and asked the public to provide tips or leads.

The following map details the night of November 12th into the early hours of November 13th, with the locations and approximate times of the victims' whereabouts.
City of Moscow Police Department

The map showed that Ethan and Xana attended a party at the Sigma Chi fraternity house between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday. The map said the two had returned to Xana's rental house by 1:45 a.m. Sunday.

Meanwhile, Kaylee and Maddie went to the Corner Club, a popular bar in downtown Moscow, from 10 p.m. Saturday to 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Then they visited a food truck on Main Street and were back at the house by 1:45 a.m.

The map did not say how police knew all four victims were home by 1:45 a.m.

Anyone near these areas who observed suspicious behavior, has video surveillance, or can provide relevant information is asked to call the Tip Line at 208-883-7180 or email tipline@ci.moscow.id.us.

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The Associated Press contributed to this post.