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Idaho police walk back claim of no threat to community after 4 students were found stabbed to death

Parents of the four victims found in an off-campus home say they are frustrated by a lack of answers from law enforcement and question why officials believe it was an "isolated" event.

MOSCOW, Idaho —Police on Wednesday walked back previous comments that there is no threat to a small, close-knit community where four University of Idaho students were found slain Sunday afternoon.

"We know you have questions, and so do we," Moscow Police Chief James Fry told reporters.

"We do not have a suspect at this time, and that individual is still out there," he added. "We cannot say there is no threat to the community."

Investigators shared new but few details of what they have pieced together since the bodies of Ethan Chapin, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, were found Sunday afternoon in a house not far from campus.

The four friends had been out Saturday night at different events near the university, with Chapin and Kernodle at a party on campus and Mogen and Goncalves at a bar, police said. They returned home sometime after 1:45 a.m. Sunday, and police got a call about a unconscious person at the residence at around noon.

Police found the four students dead from stab wounds and no signs of forced entry. They believe two other roommates were home at the time of the killings; they did not elaborate on whether the roommates are suspects.

The other roommates were not injured.

"We are looking at everyone," Idaho State Police Col. Kedrick Willis said. "Every tip we get, every we lead we get — there is no one we’re not going to talk to. There is no one we’re not going to interview."

Police have not identified a suspect and have not found a weapon, Fry said.

"Currently we have 25-plus investigators working this case," he said, including the FBI and state police. "We are reviewing video that has been collected, and we are asking that citizens contact us with any information you may that will help in this investigation."

Candles and flowers are left at a make-shift memorial honoring four slain University of Idaho students in downtown Moscow, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2022.
Candles and flowers are left Wednesday at a makeshift memorial honoring four slain University of Idaho students in downtown Moscow, Idaho.Nicholas K. Geranios / AP

The lack of information has frustrated families, who say the silence has only added to the “agony” after three days with an assailant still at large.

"There is a lack of information from the University of Idaho and the local police, which only fuels false rumors and innuendo in the press and social media," said Jim Chapin, the father of victim Ethan Chapin.

"The silence further compounds our family's agony after our son's murder," Chapin said in a statement. "For Ethan and his three dear friends slain in Moscow, Idaho, and all of our families, I urge officials to speak the truth, share what they know, find the assailant, and protect the greater community."

Goncalves’ sister, Alivea Goncalves, told NBC affiliate KHQ of Spokane, Washington, that she doesn't agree with the police assessment that the slayings are "isolated."

"Anything can be isolated until it's not," she said. "And until we have someone in custody, there's no way with any amount of confidence to say this is isolated.

"Someone did this with a purpose — not once, not twice, not three times, but four," Goncalves added. "I don't know of anything scarier than that."

What we know about the deaths of four Idaho college students

In a statement Tuesday, police said they "have shared every piece of information that we can without compromising the ongoing investigation."

"First and foremost, we continue to be steadfastly committed to ensuring the safety of our community," the statement said.

"This incident highlighted that violence is possible in our own community and in every community. Until this case is completely resolved, we ask the community to continue to be vigilant, alert, report suspicious activity and help us to be the eyes and ears in our community."

Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt said medical examiners in Spokane were conducting autopsies and could finish their work by Wednesday.

A preliminary investigation shows that the students were stabbed to death, she said, and that there was nothing to indicate that substance use was involved.

"Gruesome," Mabbutt told KHQ. "I've never seen anything like this in the 16 years I've been in this position."

Homicides are rare in Moscow, a rural city of roughly 25,000 people just east of the Washington line. There hasn't been a homicide reported in the city in the past several years, according to police.

A neighbor told NBC News that Goncalves lived in the home with Mogen and Kernodle, who were also found dead. They said Kernodle had been dating Chapin since the spring.

In an Oct. 29 Instagram post, Kernodle wished Chapin a happy birthday and said life was "so much better with you in it."

The friends were active in their sororities and fraternity. Kernodle and Mogen worked together at a Greek restaurant in town, and Mogen and Goncalves were seniors looking forward to graduating.

"One lucky girl to be surrounded by these people every day," Goncalves wrote on Instagram with photos of the friends posted hours before their deaths.

Moscow police said they were alerted to the residence in a neighborhood about a half-block from campus through a report about an unconscious person.

"Obviously, there's no way police can say that there's no risk, but what they're seeing indicates that there's not a risk that this person will randomly attack people," Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson told The Associated Press.

The university canceled classes Monday and was making additional security and counseling available this week. But many students have already left for the holiday break, and a planned vigil was moved to after Thanksgiving break.

Those who have stayed say they are taking extra precautions.

"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."

Tim Stelloh reported from Moscow, Erik Ortiz from New York and Alicia Victoria Lozano from Los Angeles.