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 news release, adding that investigators were working to establish a timeline to recreate the victims' activities before they were found dead Sunday. Police said the killings likely occurred in the early morning hours, and the bodies were found around noon.
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. Monday night, police Captain Anthony Dahlinger told the Idaho Statesman that officers were searching for a suspect.
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.
The university canceled classes on Monday, and said additional security staffers were available to walk students across campus if needed during the remainder of the week.
Still, the initial lack of information about the cause of the deaths — and the fact that police have said there is no one in custody — prompted many students to leave campus early, days before the Thanksgiving break was scheduled to begin.
A vigil for the slain students originally scheduled for Wednesday evening has been postponed until after Thanksgiving break, University of Idaho spokesman Kyle Pfannenstiel said in an email Tuesday.
In an earlier memo, University of Idaho President Scott Green urged university employees to be empathetic and flexible, and work with students who decided to leave classes 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.
Police said anyone with information should contact the department and asked that people respect the privacy of the victims' family and friends.
Brian Nickerson, the fire chief of the Moscow Volunteer Fire and EMS Department, said police were the first to arrive at the home. The first responders from the fire and EMS department didn't go inside or transport anyone from the scene, Nickerson said.
The city of Moscow is a close-knit college town nestled in the rolling hills of north-central Idaho, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Spokane, Washington.
The university said Chapin was a freshman and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, 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 and a member of Pi Beta Phi, and Goncalves was a senior majoring in general studies and a member of the Alpha Phi sorority, the university said. The university also had different home town listed for Chapin and Kernodle than the towns listed in the Moscow Police Department release: The school said Chapin was from Mount Vernon, Washington, and Kernodle was from Post Falls, Idaho.
Shortly after Moscow police announced the homicide investigation, students at the University of Virginia were also told to shelter in place after police said a suspect gunned down fellow students on a bus as they returned from a school field trip. The shooting left three members of the school's football team dead and two other students injured. The shooting touched off an intense manhunt Sunday, and authorities announced Monday that a suspect, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., had been apprehended.