It’s been a week since police found four University of Idaho students dead in a house just steps from campus, but no arrests have been made and no suspects have been identified, fueling fear and uncertainty among students and faculty.
The coroner’s office in Moscow, Idaho ruled the deaths murders by stabbing, possibly with a large knife, but as of Monday afternoon, no weapon had been found. Police identified the victims were Ethan Chapin (20), Madison Mogen (21), Xana Kernodle (20) and Kaylee Goncalves (21). The FBI has joined the local law enforcement agency investigating the case.
Although investigators initially called it an “isolated, targeted attack” with no “immediate threat to the community,” they have since backtracked on that view. During a press conference last weekJames D. Fry Jr., Moscow’s police chief, conceded, “We can’t say there’s no threat to the community.”
With the unknown killer still at large, so many students left early for Thanksgiving break that the university initially postponed a candlelight vigil scheduled for last week. Some are unsure if it is safe to return.
The university, meanwhile, has found itself in a situation over which it has little control. Because the crime took place off campus, the investigation falls under the jurisdiction of local police, whose public comments on the investigation have been chaotic and unclear at best, said Georgia State SAFE Campus President S. Daniel Carter. based company that provides campus safety consulting and training.
“As long as you have an unidentified suspect at large, no law enforcement agency can know for sure that there is no threat,” Carter said. “If a person is willing to kill four people, there is no indication that he is not willing to kill others.”
Carter, who has more than 30 years of experience in campus safety, said that after the investigation itself, communicating with the public should be the most important task for law enforcement. Moscow police took three days to hold a press conference, which Carter believes should have happened sooner.
He also said that new information should be released at the beginning of the press conference. Some of the information, including information about two of the victims’ surviving roommates and a friend who was at the scene, was only released in response to questions from reporters.
“The way you maintain confidence is having a clear strategy, which has been missing here,” Carter said. “Otherwise, people will take law enforcement less seriously, students will want to leave town, and they won’t believe they won’t be targeted.”
This lack of trust has been publicly expressed by some of the victims’ families.
On Instagram, Aubrie Goncalves, sister of Kaylee Goncalves, wrote last Wednesday, “To University of Idaho students still on campus, leave. Your grades are far less important than your lives.”
Jim Chapin, father of Ethan Chapin, made the statement last Thursday saying, “The lack of information from the University of Idaho and local police only fuels false rumors and insinuations in the press and social media. The silence only adds to our family’s anguish over our son’s murder.
The University of Idaho declined a request for comment.
Aaron Snell, director of communications for the Idaho State Police and public information officer assigned to the case, said. Chronicle that the Moscow police is a small agency with just over 30 officers and that all officers, including the police chief, are actively involved in the investigation.
Snell said the agency deliberately withheld information for the first few days. Rather, “the focus was on investigation,” he said. “It was a lesson learned. We now have a PR team that responds more appropriately.
The Moscow police have started offering daily news on their website and Facebook page. The department works to build community trust. “It requires consistency in messaging and making sure the community knows we care and want to be as transparent as possible.”
Carter at SAFE Campuses said “a university cannot and should not interfere with a law enforcement investigation. They can ensure that accurate information is provided through their communication channels,” he said. “They have the ability to verify information to eliminate rumors from circulating.”
According to Carter, they can increase visible security on campus, provide a security escort and double check that the procedures they need to follow to secure their facilities, especially housing, are being followed.
University President C. Scott Green said a press conference that the university has increased security patrols on campus and has benefited from the Idaho State Police presence in the area. The institution ensures that all living spaces are locked 24 hours a day and are accessible only to people living in the buildings. All guests must be accompanied by a building resident, and each residence has dedicated resident support staff and a resident director who conduct safety and security rounds every evening. A 24/7 security escort is also available for all students.
“At the discretion of the instructor”
Classes were canceled the day after the crime, and university officials said at a news conference that they supported students who chose to leave campus early. They asked faculty to work with these students and said their absences would be excused.
“We were told to be flexible,” said Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen, associate professor of journalism and mass media at the University of Idaho. “We finally had a say in our course offerings based on what made us comfortable and what was best for our students.”
Last week, Cieslik-Miskimen had planned to hold one-on-one meetings to talk with students about their theses. He told students they could reschedule meetings or move them to Zoom. “And I wouldn’t punish them if they didn’t show up,” he said.
For the public relations and advertising course, Cieslik-Miskimen held an in-person class Wednesday morning, but offered a remote visit via Zoom and recorded the lecture. “I didn’t take attendance and I didn’t require anyone to be there. Of the 13 students in my class, about five showed up in person and three or four showed up online.
“All my students are shocked to some degree. Everyone is nervous,” Cieslik-Miskimen said. “It’s uncertainty. It is not knowledge. And honestly, the horror of the crime committed. This has really unsettled everyone on campus.
“From an academic standpoint, as much as we want answers and we want it resolved, knowing that the administration is giving us direction on how we should proceed has been really helpful,” he said.
The administration encouraged faculty to use some kind of hybrid solution to accommodate students who don’t feel comfortable returning to campus after Thanksgiving break.
“It’s hard when you’re supposed to be the people who are guiding the students and you’re supposed to be kind of ‘calm, cool and collected,'” Cieslik-Miskimen said. “It’s hard to maintain that in a situation like this. And I think we’re all trying to do the best we can for our students.