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Fear and frustration run high in Idaho town where four college students found dead

Some nervous students say they are altering their routines, while others are calling for more details about the investigation into the quadruple homicide not far from campus.
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MOSCOW, Idaho — In this college town mourning four students killed in a quadruple homicide, the fear and frustration are hard to miss.

University of Idaho students said Tuesday they were frightened because the culprit in the attack not far from campus had not yet been caught and frustrated at what they viewed as too little information about the killings from officials.

Police have said that the four were killed in an isolated, targeted attack and that there is no imminent threat to the community at large.

Officers investigate the deaths of four University of Idaho students at an apartment complex south of campus on Nov. 14, 2022, in Moscow, Idaho.
Officers on Monday investigate the deaths of four University of Idaho students at an apartment complex south of campus.Zach Wilkinson / The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP

Moscow Mayor Art Bettge has speculated the deaths might be linked to a property crime “gone wrong” or a “crime of passion,” but without a suspect or without knowing whether anything was missing from the home, a motive remains elusive.

On the sprawling red brick campus in Moscow, just east of the Washington line, a student said she was tweaking her routines — no more night walks around the university — and developing new ones.

“I’m locking my bedroom door on top of my apartment door,” said sophomore Ainslee Hipsak, 20. “I’m not sure I believe them when they say that it’s safe.”

What we know about the deaths of four Idaho college students

In a note sent to students Monday, university President Scott Green said the police department did not believe there was an “ongoing risk” to students. Classes at the university’s flagship campus were canceled Monday but resumed Tuesday.

In response to a request for comment, a school spokeswoman pointed to an email Tuesday from the dean of students saying that while ongoing support was available on campus, “we also recognize some students may need to handle this situation in a different way.”

“Please communicate your needs to your faculty, whom I am confident will work with you as you identify the best path ahead for you,” said the dean, Blain Eckles.

Abigail Spencer, a junior, said a member of her sorority offered to provide the group with “personal protective devices,” while Ellie McKnight, also a junior, said she is avoiding home more often.

McKnight, 20, said she lives next door to the house where Ethan Chapin, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, were found dead Sunday.

McKnight's parents urged her to leave Moscow for home, a couple of hours south, ahead of the Thanksgiving break. But McKnight declined, saying she did not have a car.

Yet many others have done just that. So many students left that school officials canceled a vigil planned for Wednesday, according to an email from the dean of students. The event is now scheduled for after the holiday, according to the note, which was sent Tuesday. 

McKnight said the diminished activity on campus Tuesday was a “throwback” to the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Haadiya Tariq, a senior and the editor in chief of the school newspaper, The Argonaut, faulted the police department for saying there was no ongoing threat while offering what she described as few details about the killings while the killer remains at large.

Moscow police said Sunday they found four people dead after a report of an unconscious person. Monday, the police department identified the victims as college students, and earlier Tuesday it said an “edged weapon” was most likely used in a “targeted attack.”

Flowers are left at a make-shift memorial honoring four slain University of Idaho students in Moscow, Idaho.
Flowers are left at a make-shift memorial honoring four slain University of Idaho students in Moscow, Idaho.Tim Stelloh / NBC News

“I’m personally frustrated,” Tariq said. “I don’t understand why they’re not releasing certain information. It doesn’t feel like they’re being real to the community.”

She added: “It’s meant some people were like, ‘Oh, it’s totally fine, it’s safe, I’m gonna walk alone in the dark while not necessarily knowing what the risk could be out there.’ And we still don’t really know. Because as long as that person isn’t in custody, I don’t know what we’re supposed to be thinking.”

A police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The mayor also did not respond to a request for comment.

In an earlier statement, police said they had shared “every piece of information that we can without compromising the ongoing investigation.”

Police said no weapon has been recovered.

“Autopsies are scheduled to be completed later this week and will hopefully provide more definitive information on the exact cause of the deaths,” police said.

Federal officials are partnering with local police to investigate, an FBI spokesperson said Tuesday.