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Neighbors to University of Idaho homicides tell of party culture near home, unusually quiet night

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FILE - Bare spots are seen on Nov. 29, 2022, in the snowy parking lot in front of the home where four University of Idaho students were found dead on Nov. 13, in Moscow, Idaho, after vehicles belonging to the victims and others were towed away earlier in the day. Police are asking for help finding the occupant of a car that was seen near where the students were stabbed, saying that person could have "critical information" about the case. (AP Photo/Ted S.
FILE - Bare spots are seen on Nov. 29, 2022, in the snowy parking lot in front of the home where four University of Idaho students were found dead on Nov. 13, in Moscow, Idaho, after vehicles belonging to the victims and others were towed away earlier in the day. Police are asking for help finding the occupant of a car that was seen near where the students were stabbed, saying that person could have "critical information" about the case. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) Photo Gallery

MOSCOW, Idaho — Several residents on the block where four University of Idaho students were found dead last month recalled a boisterous party atmosphere in the enclosed neighborhood located just off campus, with the occupants of the large rental home at its core often hosting friends into the early morning hours.

While coming and going from their own rentals, it wasn’t uncommon on most weekends, and some weekdays, for neighbors to encounter streams of college-aged people shuttling between homes in the two conjoined cul-de-sacs, they said. Aluminum cans of alcoholic beverages and red plastic cups frequently were left behind on the single, sloped path, one longtime resident said.

Directly north from the neighborhood, across a grass field, the Sigma Chi fraternity house, part of the university’s new Greek row, is less than a 600-foot walk away.

In contrast, the Saturday night leading up to the students’ deaths, which police have characterized as murders, was notably quiet, two neighbors who live in an adjacent apartment complex told the Idaho Statesman. The Idaho Vandals football team played their final home game of the season that night, drawing many students downtown afterward rather than to the neighborhood, a few theorized.

Anna C., 29, a U of I master’s student in environmental science who declined to provide her last name, lives with her boyfriend next to the home in the 1100 block of King Road. Since the start of the school year, she said, they routinely had to wear earplugs to go to bed.

“You could hear them yelling. I’d think, ‘Good for you,’ ” she said in an interview outside her doorstep, describing at least a dozen people usually at the home. “I would walk by when I’d take the dog to pee, down the hill and think, ‘Jeez, I should crash the party,’ but I’m too old for that.”

Since August, the home had three noise complaints for loud music — including two on the same night in early September — reported to police, according to a Statesman review of Moscow police reports related to the tenants. Both came from homes located on the street just above the valley where the three-story, six-bedroom King Road home sits.

Anna actually awoke at about 2 a.m. that Sunday, Nov. 13, she said, when Spot, the couple’s 7-year-old Alaskan husky mix, began heaving. That’s when she noticed the rare calm of the neighborhood, Anna said. But she couldn’t get back to sleep, so she played a computer game until what she estimated was about 5 a.m. She toggled between taking her headphones on and off “just to enjoy the quiet,” Anna said.

She repeated what she said she told police the next day when they came to her door: She didn’t hear anything overnight that seemed concerning.

A number of neighbors appeared home but didn’t answer their doors when a reporter visited, while others who did declined to answer questions from the Statesman.

“It’s been kind of a rough time,” a young woman living near the home said, pressing her apartment door shut.

‘Everyone is keeping to themselves’

Moscow police investigating the homicides have yet to release a time frame of the stabbings, other than they believe what was a targeted attack happened in the early morning hours that Sunday. The four victims were U of I seniors Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum; junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington. The three women lived in the home with two other female roommates, while Chapin stayed the night with Kernodle, his girlfriend.

Kernodle and Chapin were at a party at the Sigma Chi house for the full duration from about 9 p.m. to 1:45 a.m., police have established, returning to the rental home afterward. Mogen and Goncalves, meanwhile, were at a local bar between 10 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. before grabbing some late-night food at a popular food truck parked downtown, arriving home at about 1:56 a.m.

Goncalves and Mogen each also made several unanswered phone calls between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. from their cellphones to a male, who police have not publicly identified, but said they do not believe he is involved in the crime. Goncalves’ sister, Alivea Goncalves, told The New York Times the calls were made to her sister’s ex-boyfriend, and she was known for making repeat late-night phone calls.

The two surviving roommates, Dylan Mortensen and Bethany Funke, were separately out around Moscow that same night. Each returned home at about 1 a.m., police said, and neither is suspected in the crime. The 911 call late the next morning was made on one of the roommates’ cellphones, police have said.

Since news of the deadly incident quickly spread, the neighborhood has been noticeably dormant, said David Janssen, 32, a fine arts professor at Washington State University in Pullman, located on the other side of the state line. He said he also attended a master’s program at the U of I and has lived for five years in the apartment complex adjacent the victims’ rental home.

He said in an interview that he now ensures he locks his apartment door behind him, and also began jamming a shovel into a tiny gap in the door for extra security.

“It’s absolutely terrifying,” Janssen said of the four homicides for which police still don’t have a suspect, and haven’t recovered a weapon. “Everyone is keeping to themselves. It’s changed the entire dynamic of the neighborhood, and it’s gone quiet.”

Inan Harsh, 30, originally from Pullman, said he’s lived a few doors down in the same apartment complex for about two years. He works as a cook at an upscale restaurant in his hometown and does not attend the U of I, he said.

Harsh, too, said he took note of the unusual quiet of the surroundings when he got home from work at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 13. He’s used to a noisy environment, even at that hour, he said, and once over the summer wandered into one of his neighbors’ house parties, thinking it was Goncalves, Kernodle and Chapin with whom he shared some conversation.

That Sunday, however, the typical weekend crowd of 15 to 20 people in the home’s backyard, sometimes with a fire pit alight, wasn’t there, he said.

“It was kind of bizarre,” Harsh told The Idaho Statesman in an interview, staring at the now-vacant home. “There was not a lot of activity.”

He said he went through his normal wind-down routine after getting home late from work: Feeding his cat, drinking some tea while playing video games on his PlayStation and practicing his hobby of stick juggling. Then he went to bed at what he estimates was about 4 a.m.

Harsh said he can’t be certain, but, as he dozed off early that morning, he thinks he heard a scream from the vicinity of his neighbors’ home, he told the Statesman. But it didn’t arouse much of his attention, he said, because he thought of it as more of a “party sound,” which wasn’t out of the ordinary for the time or setting.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” Harsh said. “After what happened, I’ve definitely had second thoughts. Maybe it was not a party sound. I’m not sure what good it does for them now,” he said of not previously telling police after the detail occurred to him days later.

After an initial conversation with a police officer that Sunday, Harsh said he already went back to investigators at the home to report a black luxury SUV that he hadn’t seen in the neighborhood before, parked a few spaces from the front of the home when he made it back early that morning.

Police remove victims’ items

On Wednesday, police issued a press release asking for help finding the driver and any possible passengers of a different vehicle seen close to the home in the early morning hours that Sunday. They are looking for a white 2011-2013 Hyundai Elantra, and are asking anyone with information to contact them. The sedan’s occupants may have information related to the homicides, police said.

Also Wednesday, police spent about two hours packing moving boxes full of the victims’ belongings still inside the home after nearly a month to store offsite and eventually return to family members. The home has remained secured by law enforcement since the shocking event.

One by one, law enforcement officials shuffled back and forth during the late morning with dozens of loads, stacking many of the items collected in brown cardboard boxes to fill a 10-foot U-Haul truck.

A horde of reporters waited on the snowy road and watched for movement as officials gathered the victims’ belongings inside the home. As police officers carried them out and placed them into the U-Haul, several media crews lined the narrow street near the driveway of the home, brushing up against the area restricted by yellow police tape to capture the moment.

Residents of the nearby apartments, becoming increasingly used to the national spotlight on their street, continued to go about their regular comings and goings during that time. One man returned from a walk with his dog. As he passed in front of a few large TV cameras, broadcasting the event to audiences across the country, he asked if it was OK to pass.

“Yeah, man, this is your street,” a cameraman replied. “We’re just guests here.”

Moscow Police Chief James Fry in a video the day before said that he hopes the victims’ personal effects can help their loved ones heal. The home is still an active crime scene, but the items are no longer needed for the investigation, according to police.

“We’re just trying to get stuff back to the families so that they can have some closure,” Fry said to reporters outside the home before driving the U-Haul away. “We owe this to the families.”

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