Idaho Murders: Massacre of four young American students terrifies locals and baffles detectives

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The five young women at 1122 King Road in Moscow, Idaho, lived the kind of life American children are eager to begin.

WARNING: Some readers may find the details of this story distressing.

Halfway through their studies at the University of Idaho, the students had decided to move off-campus to a shared house.

The sprawling three-story house on a quiet cul-de-sac was a 15-minute walk from campus, with enough space for everyone to enjoy their privacy.

But the police insist that the house was not so large that no one would have heard them if they shouted in the early hours of November 13.

At some point, while Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle, and her visiting boyfriend Ethan Chapin were asleep, someone sneaked into the house.

All four were stabbed in their beds with what police say was a “sharp” weapon, perhaps a “fixed blade knife.”

Meanwhile, two more housemates were fast asleep on the first floor and didn’t hear a thing.

They did not realize that a massacre had occurred in their own home until the next day when they went to wake up their friends.

ABC is choosing not to name the survivors to protect the privacy of the young women.

Five girls stand close to each other on a sunny porch
The two surviving housemates slept on the first floor of the house. (Instagram: Madison May)

With no murder weapon, no suspect, no motive, and hundreds of leads to examine, the police race to solve what appears to be a senseless killing of young men who thought they had their lives ahead of them.

Despite initially assuring this small college town of 26,000 that there was nothing to worry about, authorities now admit that without suspects or leads, police “cannot say there isn’t a threat to the community.”

Amid a frenzy of speculation, police are saying little about reports that one of the victims may have had a stalker.

They also decline to comment on apparent parallels to a stabbing murder 600 kilometers away that also remains unsolved.

An ordinary Saturday night turns deadly

In the hours leading up to the quadruple homicide, all the housemates were out on the town enjoying a typical Saturday night in Moscow, Idaho.

A map of Moscow, Idaho, marking the locations of the university massacre.
Moscow police released this map showing the location of the victims in the hours before their deaths. (Supplied: Moscow Police Department)

Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, both 21, were longtime best friends and went to a local bar together for a drink.

Then, they ordered some pasta from a food truck where witnesses insist nothing seemed amiss. Then they headed back to the house.

Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle, both 20, spent the night at a frat party before arriving home around 1:45 a.m.

The surviving housemates had returned home a little earlier, around 1 a.m., and were probably already asleep when the others arrived.

A young woman leans against a young man on a boat
Ethan Chapin spent the night at his girlfriend Xana Kernodle’s house the night of the murders. (Instagram: Xana Kernodle)

At 2:44 a.m., Kaylee made six phone calls to her ex-boyfriend, who is only referred to as ‘Jack’ by authorities.

All his calls went unanswered.

Madison made three calls to the same man several minutes later, but again did not answer.

Kaylee made a seventh and final call, but Jack, who was also a student at the University of Idaho, was asleep.

Police say they have no idea why the two women were trying to reach him, but say the man had nothing to do with what happened next.

Autopsies suggest that most of the victims were asleep when the killer struck them.

But Kaylee’s father, Jeffrey Kernodle, said it’s clear from the autopsy that his daughter was awake and trying to fight for her life.

“She’s a tough girl. Anything she wanted to do, she could do,” Mr. Kernodle he told his local news station KTVK/KPHO.

The families of the victims cannot understand how someone managed to break into the house, which had an automatic lock that required a code to open.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

A young blonde woman holding sunflowers and smiling.
Kaylee made seven calls to an ex-boyfriend the night he died, but police say he’s been eliminated as a suspect.(Instagram: Kaylee Goncalves)

Kaylee’s sister, Alivia, insists that all the housemates were aware of her safety and kept their shared home secure.

“They were smart, they were vigilant, they were careful and all of this still happened,” he said in a statement.

“No one is in custody and that means no one is safe. Yes we are all heartbroken. Yes we are all held.”

“But stronger than any of these feelings is anger. We are angry. You should be angry.”

A creepy discovery

At noon the next day, the housemates on the first floor decided that their friends had been getting enough sleep and went upstairs to check on them.

There, they made a desperate call to the emergency services, asking for an ambulance to come and see a friend who appeared to have fallen and passed out.

Authorities say the surviving housemates have been eliminated as suspects, but have no idea why their lives were spared.

Was the killer looking for the four sleeping students on the second floor? Did they just not realize there were bedrooms on the first floor as well?

Kaylee’s pet Australian Shepherd, Murphy, was in the home during the murders, but was also uninjured.

No valuables were stolen or property damaged.

A man wearing a beanie removes a plastic box from a house cordoned off with police tape
Police say they took more than 100 pieces of evidence from the crime scene. (AP: The Moscow-Pullman Daily News/Zach Wilkinson)

Detectives said they believe the killings were an “isolated and targeted” attack, but declined to provide further details.

“To be honest, you’re going to have to trust us on this point, because we’re not going to reveal why we think that,” Moscow police Capt. Roger Lanier said.

But after initially downplaying the risk to others in the city of Moscow, authorities are now urging locals to be vigilant.

“We don’t have any suspects at the moment,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said.

Whoever committed the crime, he warned, “is still out there.”

The ‘stalker’ and the eerily similar stabbing

In the two weeks since the murders, Idaho authorities have dispatched dozens of police officers to process 1,000 leads from the public.

They have interviewed 150 potential witnesses, collected more than 100 pieces of evidence from the house and taken 4,000 photographs.

Local hunting stores say they have received multiple visits from detectives asking them to check their records for knives sold in recent weeks.

The national media has descended on the small Idaho community and TikTok detectives are dissecting police press conferences and combing through victims’ social media accounts for clues.

Students pay their respects at a vigil for the four slain University of Idaho students.
The university has held candlelight vigils for the victims. (AP Photo: Sarah A. Miller)

Moscow police have confirmed they received “hundreds” of tips that, before her death, Kaylee told friends she might have had a stalker.

“We got information through some of our interviews that Kaylee had made some comments about a stalker. So that’s where that came from,” Capt. Roger Lanier told reporters.

“We have continued to look at specific time periods and specific areas of the city. So far, we have not been able to corroborate it, but we have not finished investigating that information.

Police are also investigating any potential links between the Idaho massacre and a frenzied stabbing attack on a sleeping couple in neighboring Oregon.

In the early morning of August 13, 2021, Travis and Jamilyn Juetten woke up to find a mugger armed with a knife in their bedroom.

Jamilyn survived 19 stab wounds. Her husband, Travis, fought off the attacker, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

More than a year later, the murderer is still at large.

“We’re looking at all avenues and we have other agencies contacting us with other cases, things we’ll be following up on,” Chief Frye confirmed.

As the police chase rages on, those who knew and loved the young housemates await answers that may never come.

“They were daughters, sisters, aunts, best friends and humans,” Alivea Goncalves said.

“No amount of words or statements could attempt to capture who they were or what they wanted in life or what they stole from all of us.”

Four candles surrounded by flowers.
The University of Idaho is mourning four students brutally murdered in their sleep. (AP Photo: Nicholas K. Geraniums)
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