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Federal officials are teaming up with local police to investigate the murders of four college students in Moscow, Idaho, whose deaths were so gruesome that the local coroner said he is still processing what he saw, an FBI spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
“They’ll look under your fingernails, they’ll do all kinds of different tests,” Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt said. “It was all very, very traumatic.”
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Barker declined to elaborate on what kind of assistance is being provided. She said it’s common for the office to offer investigative, technical and forensic assistance at the request of law enforcement agencies.
Idaho police said Tuesday they believe a “sharpened weapon” such as a knife was used in the “targeted attack” on the four studentsshedding light on a case that has left a shocked local community grappling with Questions without answer.
Police in Moscow said they have not recovered a weapon and made their conclusion based on preliminary information. The victims, three women and one man, all students at the University of Idaho, were found dead before noon Sunday in a house half a block from campus, police said.
“Autopsies are scheduled to be completed later this week and will hopefully provide more definitive information on the exact cause of deaths,” police said.
All four deaths have been ruled homicides; Police said they do not have a suspect in custody.
Mabbutt said the initial findings were “appalling.”
“I have never seen anything like this in the 16 years that I have been in this position,” he said, adding that he is hopeful that the autopsies will finish on Wednesday.
“Investigators believe this was an isolated and targeted attack and there is no imminent threat to the wider community,” police said, adding that they are recreating a timeline of events to identify persons of interest.
Moscow Mayor Art Bettge has speculated that the deaths could be related to a property crime gone wrong or a “crime of passion”, but without a suspect or knowing if something was missing from the house, the motive remains difficult to determine.
“Patience is needed to allow an investigation to proceed in a thorough manner,” he said.
The slain students were identified Monday as Ethan Chapin, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21.
In a memo to students, university president Scott Green said he and his wife were “heartbroken.”
The school canceled classes Monday and was providing additional security and counseling to students and employees who said they did not feel safe.
“Words cannot adequately describe the light these students brought to this world or alleviate the depth of grief we feel at their passing under these tragic circumstances,” Green said.
Moscow, a rural city of about 25,000 just east of the Washington state border, “is, barring recent events, quiet and crime-free,” Bettge said. There hasn’t been a reported homicide in the city in at least the last few years, according to police.
Chapin, from Mount Vernon, Washington, was a freshman and a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity majoring in recreation, sports and tourism management, the memo said.
Kernodle, from Post Falls, Idaho, was a junior and member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority majoring in marketing.
Mogen, from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a senior majoring in marketing, was also a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority.
And Goncalves, from Rathdrum, Idaho, was a senior and member of Alpha Phi sorority majoring in general studies.
“Pi Beta Phi’s current focus is to support the members of our chapter at the University of Idaho during this tragedy,” the sorority said in a statement. “We ask that you respect the privacy of our members while they are grieving.”
The relationships between some of the students were unclear. In an Instagram post on Saturday, Goncalves included a picture of herself and several friends, including Mogen, writing: “Lucky girl to be surrounded by these people every day.”
In an Oct. 29 Instagram post, Kernodle wished Chapin a happy birthday, saying life was “so much better with you in it.”