University of Idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

MOSCOW, Idaho – Four University of Idaho students killed in their sleep were remembered Wednesday as both snow and tears fell on a campus that remains stunned over the brutal unsolved murders.

Hundreds of students and local community members came for the candle lighting and memorial service at an indoor football field, many holding electric candles and lights from their cell phones in high-tech remembrance of the slain students.

The deaths of Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Xana Kernodle, 20, have struck a chord of fear and mystery not just at the remote university in picturesque Idaho, but throughout the nation.

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“Ethan, Xana, Maddie and Kaylee came to the University of Idaho and found their place… They were brimming with promise and poised to make their mark on the world outside of Moscow,” Scott Green, president of the University of Idaho, said at the vigil. “During the time at the University of Idaho, they fully embraced what it means to be Vandals… May we find peace as we honor their lives.”

Each of the students was stabbed while sleeping in their beds after an unknown intruder walked into their off-campus home.

University officials said they were committed to working with law enforcement to make students feel as safe as possible. Police haven’t named a suspect in the killings in this community of about 26,000 people on the border of Washington state.

“We continue to push for answers to this case while recognizing the enormity of the task ahead for dozens of law enforcement experts across agencies,” Green told students. “We are not accustomed to this kind of violence in our town or at our university and are grateful to the Idaho State Police for increasing their visibility on our campus and in our community. This will continue for the foreseeable future.”

University of Idaho slayings ‘took our innocence’: More than 1K tips investigated

Who were the victims?

Ethan Chapin, 20, was a freshman studying recreation, sport and tourism management at the university, and member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. Chapin attended Mount Vernon High School in Washington state and is survived by his parents, and his two other triplets, among other family members.

“Since attending the University of Idaho, Ethan lived his best life. He loved the social life, intramurals and tolerated the academics. He also continued to play sports,” an obituary for Chapin reads. “If he wasn’t on the golf course or working, you could usually find him surfing, playing sand volleyball or pickle ball.”

university of idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

In this photo provided by Stacy Chapin, Ethan Chapin surfs on Priest Lake in northern Idaho in this family snapshot from July 2022. Chapin was one of four University of Idaho students found stabbed to death in a home near the Moscow, Idaho campus on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. Police are still searching for a suspect in the case.

In a memorial last week for Chapin in Mount Vernon, Washington, his mother Stacy thanked the local police department for pursuing its investigation to find the person who killed her son, her son’s girlfriend Kernodle and the two other victims, The Seattle Times reported.

Xana Kernodle, 20, was a junior studying marketing at the university, and a member of the Pi Beta phi sorority. Kernodle attended Post Falls High School in Idaho and is survived by her parents, sister and brother, among other family members.

In Kernodle’s obituary, her family recalled her love for her dog, EDM music, concerts, “spending time with her friends and going on family trips with her sister and father,” and her time playing volleyball, track and soccer in high school. She worked at Mad Greek Restaurant in Moscow, it reads.

university of idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

This undated photo provided by Jazzmin Kernodle shows University of Idaho students Xana Kernodle, right, and Ethan Chapin. Both students were among four found stabbed to death in an off-campus rental home on Nov. 13, 2022.

“Her desire to live life to the fullest, and contagious sense of humor, has made a lasting impression on all those who knew her. Xana was just starting to become the woman she was destined to be, and the world will be a lesser place without her,” the obituary reads.

A GoFundMe page set up by a friend shows more than $45,000 raised for the costs of a funeral and memorial to honor her.

“On this day heaven gained 4 angels in the most unfortunate circumstances… I know it applies to me but waking up and realizing it’s a day xana wont be in – is unbearable,” it reads.

There will be a service for Kernodle and the victims on Friday at 11 a.m. at Real Life Ministries in her hometown of Post Falls, Idaho, the obituary reads.

Madison Mogen, 21, was a senior studying marketing at the university, and a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Mogen attended Lake City High School in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and is survived by her parents, boyfriend Jake, among other family members.

An obituary for Mogen says she was ” so excited to attend the University of Idaho, a little far from home but not too far,” and made the Dean’s List every semester.

“To say Maddie is loved by all is an understatement. Maddie was known for her ability to make others smile and laugh with her offbeat and hilarious sense of humor — and it was well-known by all who knew her to never let her get hungry,” her obituary reads.

“We will think of her forever surrounded by pink sparkly things that are tiny and cute because that’s exactly how we picture Maddie,” it continues.

Kaylee Goncalves, 21, was a senior majoring in general studies in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences at the university, and was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority. Goncalves and Mogen were close friends, and graduated from the same high school in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Goncalves reportedly had made comments about a stalker prior to her death, said Moscow Police Captain Roger Lanier last week at a news conference.

What did mourners have to say?

On stage at the candelight vigil, Steve Goncalves, Kaylee’s father told mourners, “In the end they died together in same apartment and in the same bed. There’s a beauty of the two always being together. It comforts us that they were with their best friends in the whole world. It’s like a book, some terrible chapter of it, but that’s the beauty of it,” about Goncalves and Mogen’s friendship and final moments of life.

Mogen’s father, Ben Mogen talked about his daughter, and recalled one of his favorite memories with her: watching live music with her. He recounted taking her and her friends to a Macklemore concert with VIP passes that he won.

“When I would meet people, ever since she was born, any time I would meet people I would talk about my daughter,” he said. In his speech, he described Maddie as a “great kid, smart, funny, beautiful, nice to everybody,” a hard worker, and his only child and her grandparents’ first grandchild.

Holding back tears, Chapin’s mother praised the University of Idaho for being the perfect college match for her son, and her other two children, who survive their brother. She said her son would want the rest of his peers to follow their ambitions, and thanked the community for their support.

“The most important thing in my family is we always had each others’ backs, and we will continue to do so. We’re eternally grateful we spent so much time with him,” she said.

Other mourners were hugging their neighbors, and some were in tears at the vigil.

university of idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

The University of Idaho community mourns the loss of four students through a spontaneous memorial at the entrance to the campus. (Photo by Garrett Britton, University Visual Production)

Where does the investigation into the University of Idaho killings stand?

Police discovered the students’ bodies after being called to the off-campus home, authorities said.

Prior to the killings, Goncalves and Mogen were at a bar called Corner Club in downtown Moscow from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., police said. They were then seen on video at a local food vendor called the Grub Truck before they went to their King Road home at 1:56 a.m.

Authorities said Chapin and Kernodle were seen at the Sigma Chi house campus and returned to the same home at about 1:45 a.m. Police said Chapin, a member of the fraternity, was visiting the home.There were two surviving roommates in the home who did not wake up until later that morning, the summary from police says.

“The surviving roommates summoned friends to the residence because they believed one of the second-floor victims had passed out and was not waking up. At 11:58 a.m., a 911 call requested aid for an unconscious person. … Officers entered the residence and found two victims on the second floor and two victims on the third floor,” police said.

Police also said the roommates are not considered suspects.

“The Latah County Coroner confirmed the identity of the four victims and their cause and manner of death as homicide by stabbing,” the summary says. “The coroner stated the four victims were likely asleep, some had defensive wounds, and each was stabbed multiple times. There was no sign of sexual assault.”

Authorities are asking anyone with information about the crime to contact them at 208-883-7180 or email their tip line at tipline@ci.moscow.id.us.

“At this time, there are no named suspects, no arrests and no weapon has been found,” said Rachel Doniger, a spokesperson for the Moscow Police Department.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has directed up to $1 million for the investigation.

How is the Moscow community coping with the loss?

More than two weeks after the killings, the community remains on high alert.

Students who attend the university, and those who attend nearby Washington State University, described an unsettling atmosphere in interviews with USA TODAY. Many said they were afraid to go to school with a killer on the loose, and several said they had decided to pivot to remote schooling for the rest of the school year.

And as they mourn the loss of the victims and friends, many students said they were angry because there has been no resolution in the crime and were concerned about what’s next for their small-town community. The school has about 11,500 students.

“We are hearing from faculty that about two-thirds of the students are in person,” said Jodi Walker, a spokeswoman from the university.

More: All 4 University of Idaho students were stabbed to death, coroner says

Sophomore Riley Kesey, 20, said she and her roommates are taking extra precautions. They walk to their cars in groups, take classes online, carry pepper spray and text each other constantly about their whereabouts.

“You just feel on edge because none of it was likely to happen, so it could be likely to happen again,” Kesey said.

Unlike many students who left the day after the homicides, Kesey remained on campus for the rest of the school week. She called the campus a “ghost town” in the days following the incident.

After that Sunday, when the University of Idaho sent an alert notifying students of a homicide investigation, third-year student Grace Faulkner left for home the next day. She hasn’t been to campus since.

Faulkner, 21, said she felt uneasy going to class on campus without a declared suspect.

“What if we are passing the suspect every day?” she said.

Faulkner, who was friends with Goncalves, said she went home to spend time with her family to not only grieve, but also meet with school friends in the area to comfort each other and tell stories about their friend.

More: Memorial services for four University of Idaho students stabbed near campus are underway

University of Idaho senior Juliana Nelson said she quit working her on-campus job until she could feel comfortable being alone again. Nelson said she noticed classrooms going from 200 to 70 students immediately after the killings.

university of idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

University of Idaho President Scott Green reacts emotionally when speaking about four students who were murdered in an off-campus house in Moscow during a press conference at the Moscow Police Department on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, in Moscow, Idaho. (Zach Wilkinson/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP) ORG XMIT: IDMOS502

“There is still kind of the bustle of the normal community, but everybody feels a little bit more on edge and always looking behind their shoulder now,” Nelson said. “If you saw a stranger, usually you’d smile and say hi. It’s not as much of a friendly interaction now.”

In addition to increased Idaho State Police presence on campus, the university said it has “increased our own security force,” including officers who are available to walk students to their cars, and to and from residence halls and fraternity and sorority chapter houses.

All four victims were involved in fraternity or sorority organizations. Kernodle and Mogen were part of the Pi Beta Phi sorority and Goncalves was part of the Alpha Phi sorority.

D. Timothy Sanderson, international president of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, said the organization “grieves for the loss of our brother” and is thinking about and praying for Chapin’s family and the families of the other three victims.

“We continue to provide as much support as possible to the men of our Gamma Eta chapter, all of whom are heartbroken over their loss,” Sanderson said. “Finally, we extend our sincerest condolences and most tender sympathies to the University of Idaho and Moscow communities, with special consideration to the women of Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Phi.”

Police: 4 University of Idaho students were likely killed with an ‘edged weapon’

University of Idaho offers help to students after deaths

The university said it is working with faculty to be flexible with students in the final weeks of the fall semester, given some don’t want to return with a killer at large.

“We have heard from many of you about how you hope we will proceed as a university after Fall Break,” their website reads. “Each idea, concern and fear has been heard and considered. We will strive to respond accordingly. As such, faculty have been asked to prepare in-person teaching and remote learning options so that each student can choose their method of engagement for the final two weeks of the semester.”

The university also set up an emergency fund to help support students process the tragedy. “Vandals – The path ahead may seem daunting, but we will move forward together,” said Green, referring to the university’s mascot, Joe Vandal, who the university says “represents the confident and resolute spirit.”

The university was still deliberating how to move forward with the remainder of the school year.

university of idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

The University of Idaho community mourns the loss of four students through a spontaneous memorial at the entrance to the campus. (Photo by Garrett Britton, University Visual Production)

“As the case unfolds, we will better know how to proceed in the new year,” Green told students last week. “We will endeavor to find balance among safety concerns, the need to grieve and the long-term needs of all our students and employees.”

Students aren’t the only ones who have been affected by the killings, city officials said.

“This tragedy serves as a sobering reminder that senseless acts of violence can occur anywhere, at any time, and we are not immune from such events here in our own community,” said Moscow Mayor Art Bettge. “Let us come together in support of each other, and be there for each other, as we mourn as a community.”

Reach Kayla Jimenez at kjimenez@usatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter @kaylajjimenez. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: University of Idaho remembers slain students amid mystery and a killer still at large

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