MOSCOW, Idaho — Four University of Idaho students were found dead near campus in what a local official described Monday as a “crime of passion.”
Art Bettge, the mayor of Moscow, Idaho, said in an interview that authorities were still investigating what happened, but the case was being treated as murder. He said authorities did not believe there was a “perceptible danger to the general public” but declined to say how the victims were killed and whether any suspect was on the loose.
“With a crime of this magnitude, it’s very difficult to get through,” said Mr. Bettge, adding that police needed time to find out what had happened. “The general assessment is that it is a crime of passion,” he said.
Authorities said they had responded to a call about an “unconscious person” on Sunday and discovered four dead people in a home near the University of Idaho campus. On Monday, they identified the victims as Ethan Chapin, 20, of Conway, Washington; Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Xana Kernodle, 20, of Avondale, Arizona; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum, Idaho.
Cathy Mabbutt, the Latah County coroner, said all four deaths were ruled homicide and not a murder-suicide. Ms Mabbutt said her office planned to conduct autopsies on Wednesday. She said she could not share information about how the victims were killed without police permission.
The University of Idaho confirmed that all of the victims were students and canceled classes on Monday.
“Words cannot adequately describe the light these students have brought to this world or illuminate the depth of the suffering we feel at their passing under these tragic circumstances,” Scott Green, the university’s president, said in a message to students. and employees.
The deaths came on the same day as a shooting at the University of Virginia that killed three members of the university’s football team and injured two other people. That campus was locked down for 12 hours before police announced that a suspect, a 22-year-old student, had been arrested and charged.
Located in the rolling wheat fields across the border from Pullman, Washington, where the much larger Washington State University is, Moscow is a college town with a population of about 25,000. More than 10,000 students are enrolled on the University of Idaho campus, which has a strong focus on engineering and agriculture. The city has not recorded a homicide since 2015.
The murders took place in a house in a neighborhood under a water tower with the logo of the university. On Monday, police tape surrounded a gray house with several vehicles parked outside. Some students who lived in the area said they left town nervous about what had happened.
Paige Carter, a senior public relations major who lives in a nearby home, said she and her roommate were on their way to the airport. Several of her neighbors had already left.
“We’re just scared of the circumstances,” she said. “We haven’t really heard much information. So we don’t really know what to think about it.”
Bailey Briggs, a senior environmental scientist who lives in another neighboring building, said she first heard about the case through the university’s alert system, but had received little information about the case since then.
Although police have said there is no imminent threat, she said many people are concerned. “They say it’s a murder — they’re 100 percent sure it’s a murder,” she said. “But there’s no threat.” Like, what does that mean?”
University officials said counseling resources were being made available to students and employees. A candlelight vigil was scheduled for later in the week.
According to their online profiles, the four victims all appeared to have been close friends and involved in campus fraternities and sororities.
On the same day as the murders, one of the victims, Ms. Goncalves, posted a photo on Instagram of her and the three other victims posing together. In the photo, Mrs. Mogen is wearing an “Idaho” sweatshirt and sitting on Mrs. Goncalves’ shoulders, while Mr. Chapin puts his arm around Mrs. Kernodle.
About two weeks ago, Mrs. Kernodle shared a series of photos with Mr. Chapin for his birthday, including one where the couple appeared dressed up for a costume party as the protagonists of the movie “Ratatouille”, with Mr. Chapin dressed as a cook and Mrs. Kernodle as the character’s friend and colleague, a rat.
“Life is so much better with you in it,” Ms Kernodle wrote in a caption accompanying the photos.
Egann Willis, a former classmate of Mr. Chapin at Mount Vernon High School in Washington State, said Mr. Chapin had been a great basketball player for the school team, the Bulldogs, and graduated in 2021 before attending the University of Idaho.
“Ethan was the kind of kid who lit up a room and always had a smile on his face,” said Mr. Willis. “None of us can accept that this really happened to such an innocent person.”
“Ethan was really special,” said Jacob Perez, who first met Mr. Chapin when they were kids playing sports together and then went to high school with him. “I don’t think I have a single video or picture of him where he’s not complaining ear to ear or doing something wacky.”
Mr Perez said he was also in the dark about what had happened and struggled to understand it. “He had everything in store for him,” said Mr. Perez. “It’s a real shame.”
Jackie Fischer, owner of the Mad Greek restaurant in Moscow, said Ms. Kernodle and Ms. Mogen had been servants there for a few years, working there two to three days a week.
Ms. Fischer said Ms. Mogen, who the university says was a marketing major, helped her with social media for the restaurant.
“I have a staff of about 20 people who are confused and trying to figure out what happened,” Ms Fischer said. “It’s a family atmosphere that works here, and I handled calls last night from mostly broken hearts.”
Ms Fischer said she was putting together a dinner in memory of the victims on Monday night. “We grieve together as a family,” she said. “We are definitely in shock.”
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