- After a nearly seven-week manhunt, Bryan Kohberger’s arrest did not reveal a motive.
- Court documents in the case laying out prosecutors’ theory of the crime raised new questions.
- The long stretch between the killings and when police were called is one outstanding mystery.
MOSCOW, Idaho — As students return for spring semester, this small college town in wheat-farming country is still grappling with the brutal killings of four vivacious University of Idaho students.
A shrine of teddy bears, flowers, and a framed photo collage still stands in front of the three-story home near campus where three female residents and a male visitor were fatally stabbed in the early morning of November 13.
On Main Street, a table in front of Mad Greek, a restaurant where two of the victims worked, holds four white candles, each bearing the name of a victim.
A candle for Madison Mogen, 21, a senior in marketing from Coeur d’Alene, about an hour and a half’s drive north of Moscow, remembered for treasuring her friends and dreaming of world travel, according to interviews conducted by Insider and reports published in other outlets.
A candle for Kaylee Goncalves, 21, remembered for her excitement for her planned post graduation move to Austin, Texas, to begin a marketing career.
A candle for Ethan Chapin, 20, of Conway, Washington, remembered for his bright smile, sense of humor, and love of enjoying sports with his siblings, with whom he was born a triplet.
A candle for Xana Kernodle, 20, who grew up in Idaho and Arizona, remembered for loving her independent life in college and for her fierce spirit.
A server at Mad Greek, the restaurant where Mogen and Kernodle worked and the other victims visited, wore a ribbon of her school’s black and yellow colors to honor her friends.
“So sweet, so friendly,” said the young woman, who asked Insider not to name her.
After a nearly seven-week manhunt, questions about what could have motivated anyone to harm the students grew even more pitched after the police finally arrested a suspect on December 30. Despite attempts to make sense of the killings, a motive remains elusive weeks later.
And questions have mounted about why it took one of the surviving roommates until just before noon to call police after she’d seen a masked man in her home around 4 a.m. the night before.
Timing of the 911 call
The police said Dylan Mortensen, one of the two surviving roommates, heard what she thought was crying around the time of the alleged murders, and a male voice she didn’t recognize saying, “It’s OK, I’m going to help you.”
She told authorities that she went to her door and saw a man dressed in black and wearing a ski mask coming toward her and froze, but that after he exited through a back, sliding-glass door, she locked her own bedroom door and went back to bed.
She finally called 911 at 11:58 a.m., after first calling friends over to ask what to do about finding one of her roommates not moving, according to early news reports citing police sources.
Then there was the haze of the grisly discovery.
Confusion ensued in the hours before the police were called, said another neighbor, who identified herself as the best friend of one of the surviving roommates and asked not to be named for privacy reasons.
She said she came to the house soon after the crime was discovered and learned from the surviving roommates — Mortensen and Bethany Funke — that someone on the second floor wasn’t moving.
She said she first presumed the person had ingested “something from someone that was laced.”
It wasn’t until later when she learned four people she knew had been stabbed and were not unconscious, but dead.
“When I was out there that day, I wasn’t comprehending,” she said. “I’m still not.”
A ‘party house’
The victims’ hilly, campus-adjacent neighborhood, crammed with large and small apartment buildings, plus family homes with rooms rented by students, was known as a party zone.
A friend and neighbor of the victims who was often inside their gray, three-story home with a large balcony and a barbecue and a sofa in the backyard described it as a “normal girl party house.”
Several residents of a large, brick apartment building next door described disruptive late-night parties with loud country music, and numerous visitors coming and going through an unlocked door.
Police were called to respond to complaints of loud parties at the house three times since August, according to reports obtained by Insider.
A Lyft driver, Vincent Sheetz, said he’d started refusing to pick up or drop off anyone in the vicinity of the house on party nights because he’d experienced incidents in which his car was hit with vomit and people threw objects while he was driving.
He said he previously worked as a caterer at several University of Idaho fraternity and sorority houses and couldn’t take it.
“The amount of drugs and alcohol in this was mind-fucking boggling,” he told Insider. “So I quit.”
Goncalves was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority, and Kernodle and Mogen were members of Pi Beta Phi.
Both sororities are on suspension at the University of Idaho for “health and safety violations.”
Traumatized and scrutinized
In Moscow, some of the victims’ neighbors speculated that Mortensen might have been intoxicated at the time of the killings, and therefore did not respond appropriately to encountering a strange man in her house.
But the house was known for frequent guests and noisiness, in an area known for rowdy parties. Neighbors, too, were used to late-night disturbances.
Matthew Moye, 22, a neighbor and a friend of Mortensen’s, defended her against criticism.
“She has been through one of the most traumatic things you can go through, and people are attacking her,” he said. “When you’re in a stressful situation, you might not act how people think.”
At closing time on a late October weekend, Kaylee Goncalves hired Lyft driver Dakota Kidder to drive her and Madison Mogen home from a local bar.
They had spent their night — as they also would on the night of the murders — at the Corner Club. The popular watering hole is a small, windowless haunt made of gray cinder blocks where 20-somethings sip pink cocktails of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Twisted Tea, and rum.
“They were nice. They were not, like, sloppy drunk or anything. They were great riders,” Kidder told Insider. “They even tipped.”
A disturbing new detail
The suspect in the killings, Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old , a 6-foot tall, 185-pound criminology student who neighbors described as friendly and talkative, was enrolled at Washington State University in nearby Pullman, Washington. Prosecutors say cell phone data shows he made the 22-mile round-trip drive from his apartment to the house where the killings took place no fewer than a dozen times before the murders.
But there was no further known connection between the suspect and the victims, and accounts that have surfaced about the suspected killer since his arrest have provided no clear motive or revealed any history that would suggest a prior propensity to kill.
Kohberger’s arrest on December 30, however, triggered talk of a disturbing new detail.
For hours before and after the killings, Washington State University police and Whitman County sheriff’s deputies were posted outside the suspect’s apartment because of a bloody hit-and-run reported at 11:40 p.m. on November 12 that sent two pedestrians to the hospital with serious injuries.
Turner Gardner, 26, told Insider that a man had been thrown from the road and a woman lay face-down screaming.
“It was horrifying,” she said of coming upon the scene just before midnight on November 12.
“I heard a screech and a loud bang,” another witness, Aundrea McKinsey, 25, told Insider. “It was scary,”
Within 24 hours, police had Carmen E. Fernandez in custody. The 19-year-old Kappa Delta sorority member was charged with vehicular assault and DUI, according to police and press reports, but first there was a manhunt, according to local press reports.
Cell phone data laid out in court documents shows Kohberger’s phone at his home in the early hours of November 13. A second-story window likely gave Kohberger, who according to neighbors and court documents was an insomniac, a view of the scene. It was also within earshot.
He left his apartment about 2:42 a.m. on November 13, according to cellular data and traffic-camera footage compiled by prosecutors, his white Hyundai sedan traveling 11 miles to Moscow. Prosecutors allege he then committed the grisly murders, leaving behind a knife sheath containing the DNA that would eventually lead to his arrest.
By 5:30 am, cell tower pings showed his phone back at his home.
“The police were there the whole time,” Jose Mercado, 19, a student who lives in a nearby apartment with a view of both Kohberger’s building and the accident scene, told Insider.
While authorities had no reason to believe four people had been murdered in the neighboring town with its own police force, it’s unclear if the crash had anything to do with the killings or if it was a simple coincidence: Two bloody crime scenes not far from one another.
“It makes you wonder if things could have been different,” Faith Grossi, 19, told Insider standing in a student room with a window facing the hit-and-run scene and Kohberger’s apartment.
At 9 a.m., Kohberger’s phone was on the move again, prosecutors allege, and it returned to the scene of the murders before arriving back at his Pullman home at 9:32 a.m.
Around noon, about the time Moscow police found the victims and the hunt for the killer began, Kohberger’s phone pings indicate that he likely slipped out of his apartment and past Pullman police once more.
A suspect at ease, a community on edge
Kohberger then took a long drive, winding through hilly wheat fields and past grain silos and red barns to the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, according to security camera footage presented by prosecutors. He shopped at an Albertson’s grocery store in the town of Clarkston, Washington. His cellphone was next tracked traveling east for more than an hour toward the Bitterroot Mountains, they say.
He returned seemingly unnoticed to Pullman and fell back into his school routine. In addition to his doctoral studies, Kohberger worked as a teacher’s assistant in the university’s criminology department — and had even applied for an internship with the same Pullman Police Department that would eventually help nab him, according to court documents.
The unsolved killings set the campus on edge, with students staying inside, canceling appointments, and even leaving town early out of fear of a killer on the loose. But Kohberger appeared in a notably bright and cheery mood, according to interviews conducted by Insider.
One of his students said he stopped grading after the killings, but he also attended a routine medical appointment four days later and was so friendly with staff members that they took notice.
An arrest, but no closure
It would take the police several weeks to identify Kohberger as the suspect. He was arrested at his parents’ house in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains while visiting for the holidays, after the DNA on the knife sheath at the scene was matched to his father’s — found in a trash can outside the home.
But the arrest and subsequent affidavit laying out prosecutors’ theory of the crime has hardly brought closure.
People here still remember where they were when the last murder in Moscow happened nearly a decade ago, in 2015, and residents from the towns nearby stood in the cold to watch Kohberger enter the Latah County Jail on January 4.
“We’re a little town that’s really freaked out and in pain,” a University of Idaho teacher, Julia Piaskowski, said from outside the jail that night.
“This changed us.”