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Concerns of ‘cold case’ in University of Idaho of homicides is premature as probe advances, police say

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BOISE, Idaho — Despite a raft of unknowns, police investigating the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students more than three weeks ago say they remain steadfast they are on the right path to eventually finding the killer, or killers, and bringing the case to a resolution.

Detectives with the Moscow Police Department, buttressed by dozens of investigators with the Idaho State Police and FBI, have entered the analytical phase of the case, Aaron Snell, spokesperson for the Idaho State Police, told the Idaho Statesman in a sit-down interview Tuesday. Public critique aside — including from some of the four victims’ family members — based on the amount of tips and evidence still flooding into law enforcement, the investigation is far from becoming a cold case, he said.

“We have several thousand leads and tips that have come in,” Snell said, seated inside Moscow Police headquarters. “So even though we don’t have a suspect, and even though we don’t have a weapon, we’re confident that the amount of work and the analysis that’s being done, the test results that are coming back, all of those things are going to help lead to being able to identify someone and make an arrest.”

To date, investigators are working through about 6,500 tips. They include 2,645 emails, 2,770 phone calls and 1,084 digital media submissions, police said.

“We’re at that point of the investigation where we’re still gathering information, we’re still gathering tips, we’re still gathering evidence,” Moscow police Chief James Fry said in a brief interview posted Tuesday to YouTube. “We’re still doing everything we need to do.”

Police have so far said only that there was no sign of forced entry at the home in the 1100 block of King Road where the attack happened. They are still trying to finalize the actual entry point, Snell said.

“To my knowledge, that has not been fully determined, and, if and when it is, that’s not something that we’re going to provide, right now at least,” he said. “We think that a lot of those details are crucial to the investigation and crucial to where we’re going to go.”

Case time frames ‘critical’

The victims’ deaths, which police have characterized as targeted killings, occurred sometime in the early-morning hours of Nov. 13. However, as police continue developing a larger portrait of the homicides, investigators have yet to settle on and release a time frame for the attack, which claimed the four students’ lives, and left the small college town bewildered and searching for answers.

“We think it’s pretty critical,” Snell said of the morning time frame. “We’re working with the coroner’s office to make sure we have that appropriate information, and that will go to detectives. And that will be part of that picture, and that investigation.”

The victims were University of Idaho seniors Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum, and Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene; junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington. They were each found dead by police at the King Road home, where Goncalves, Mogen and Kernodle lived with two other female roommates. Chapin, who was dating Kernodle, was staying over for the night.

Police continue to closely scrutinize each student’s whereabouts leading up to the deadly incident — the city’s first homicide since 2015.

On Tuesday, Snell clarified to The Idaho Statesman that investigators believe Chapin and Kernodle were together at a party at the Sigma Chi fraternity house during the full duration from about 9 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. Chapin was a member of the fraternity, which is located less than a 600-foot walk from the three-story, six-bedroom King Road home. The two returned to Kernodle’s residence at about 1:45 a.m., police said.

“That’s the time frame in which we’re looking to try and make sure that we’ve nailed down as much of the factual evidence as we can,” Snell said. “Any interaction that maybe occurred there, anything that was maybe out of the ordinary there, and then, of course, means, mode, travel home.”

Goncalves and Mogen were together at the Corner Club bar from about 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., and then stopped by a food truck parked downtown, police said. They received a ride the roughly mile distance home from a “private party,” arriving at about 1:56 a.m., police said.

Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., Goncalves and Mogen each made several calls that went unanswered from their cellphones to a male, who police have not publicly identified, but said they do not believe is involved in the crime. Alivea Goncalves told The New York Times the calls were made to her sister’s ex-boyfriend, who declined the Times’ request to speak about the calls. Kaylee Goncalves was known for frequent late-night phone calls, her sister said.

Meanwhile, the two surviving roommates, Dylan Mortensen and Bethany Funke, were separately out around Moscow that same night, each returning home at about 1 a.m., police said. Mortensen and Funke had bedrooms on the first floor of the home and apparently slept through the crime, not waking up until later that morning, police said.

Each of the victims was “likely asleep” in their beds and died of multiple stab wounds, according to Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt, with some exhibiting defensive wounds. Police have declined to state which victims were found on the second floor and which on the third floor.

Just before noon on Sunday, Nov. 13, the cellphone of one of the roommates was used from inside the home to call 911 to report an unconscious person. Police said dispatch spoke with several people during the call, after friends were summoned to the home.

Police have declined to identify how many people were in the home when they arrived, as well as release whose cellphone was used. Police also have denied repeated public records requests from a variety of media outlets, including the Statesman, for the audio recording of the 911 call, citing the ongoing investigation, records showed.

“The 911 call has information on it that we don’t want to have released at this point in time,” Snell said.

But the absence of new public details approaching four weeks since the students’ deaths has started to trouble the victims’ family members, and created greater concerns that police are coming up short in the investigation. Not so, said Snell, who again tried to reassure community members that much work remains ahead, and their probe is far from reaching an unsettled conclusion.

“We’re nowhere near the end of an investigation,” he said. “It’s kind of like an iceberg: You don’t see everything down below. But that work is going 24/7, and we have been dedicated, three weeks, almost four weeks, 24/7. We’re still working hard on this case, and we still have a long ways to go.”

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