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Tuesday, February 20, 2024
Feb. 20, 2024

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Kohberger told neighbor of prior DNA test, raising questions about how police found him


PULLMAN — Bryan Kohberger told a fellow Washington State University graduate student living in the same on-campus housing complex that he submitted his DNA for consumer genetic testing to explore his ancestry, the neighbor told the Idaho Statesman.

Kohberger, 28, was a Ph.D. student in WSU’s criminal justice and criminology department. He now stands charged with four counts of first-degree murder and felony burglary in the killing of four University of Idaho students on Nov. 13.

Kohberger’s neighbor said the two became acquainted while crossing paths on the residential property a handful of times after they each moved there in August. The WSU Ph.D. student lives across from the apartment where Kohberger resided until recently, and he said the two traded cellphone numbers.

In their longest interaction, on the first Friday night of the fall semester, they spent about an hour chatting, the man said. The Statesman agreed to grant him anonymity over privacy concerns to publish his account of his exchanges with Kohberger, including that conversation — months before Kohberger was arrested.

That August evening, the two grad students ran into each other in the large housing complex’s parking lot next to their buildings, the man said during an interview at his apartment. Kohberger then asked him if he wanted to walk and talk, he said, and the two got to know each other a little while taking laps around the asphalt parking area.

During their discussion, Kohberger asked his neighbor, who is not from the U.S., whether he could identify Kohberger’s ancestral background, the man said. The neighbor said he guessed Italy before Kohberger stated that he was of German descent.

“He talked about his ancestors,” the 30-year-old neighbor said. “He had some sort of DNA test. I don’t know how he got to that point. … It was just interesting to him.”

The detail could shed new light on growing reports that investigators used public genealogy databases to land on Kohberger as the alleged killer. Citing law enforcement sources, multiple news outlets, including Fox News, CNN and ABC News, reported as early as the day after Kohberger’s arrest that police employed the forensic technique to narrow their focus to Kohberger, while making no mention of the contentious method in the probable cause affidavit used to justify taking him into custody.

A single source of male DNA was recovered from the button snap on a Ka-Bar brand leather knife sheath found on the bed next to the body of one of the four victims, police said. Police later matched the DNA from trash discarded at the Kohberger home in eastern Pennsylvania, where Bryan Kohberger was visiting his family for the winter break, to the profile taken from the knife sheath, according to the affidavit.

However, investigators didn’t home in on Kohberger and seek a search warrant for his cellphone data until after the investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) results came back identifying him, a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told Slate.

Police said they first became aware of Kohberger on Nov. 29, when a WSU Police officer researched white Hyundai Elantras at the university while seeking information about such vehicles related to the crime, according to the affidavit. About a half-hour later, another WSU officer located Kohberger’s vehicle parked outside his on-campus apartment, police said.

Law enforcement obtained search warrants for records of cellphones that used cell towers close to the area of the King Road home in Moscow where the victims were killed “as part of this investigation,” the affidavit read, without providing a date. Based on evidence, police believe the homicides occurred between 4 a.m. and 4:25 a.m., but Kohberger’s phone did not register in the area between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

On Dec. 23, investigators obtained another search warrant for expanded records of Kohberger’s cellphone dating to when police said he opened the account with AT&T on June 23, 2022, the affidavit read. The records showed him in the vicinity of his WSU apartment at 2:42 a.m. and appearing to leave the area five minutes later, with his phone not reporting to the network again until 4:48 a.m., south of Moscow along U.S. 95, near Blaine, Idaho, and north of Genesee.

Further review of the records showed Kohberger’s cellphone in the area of the King Road home from 9:12 a.m. to 9:21 a.m. on Nov. 13, police said. In addition, his cellphone appeared to be in the same area at least a dozen times prior to that date, according to the affidavit.

‘A very serious person’

Kohberger’s neighbor told the Statesman that he was back in his home nation for WSU’s winter break when he heard police arrested a suspect in the Moscow case. A friend posted a message in a group WhatsApp thread, he said, noting that the person lived in the man’s housing complex. He said he immediately searched for more information on Google, and saw that Kohberger was the person accused in the deaths of U of I seniors Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, junior Xana Kernodle and freshman Ethan Chapin.

“It’s shocking,” the man said. “Still seeing his picture on the news, it’s very shocking.”

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He thought back to Kohberger owning a white Hyundai Elantra that he parked in the lot where they walked together several months earlier. Moscow police were seeking information about anyone driving such a vehicle after they obtained video footage from the early morning hours of Nov. 13 that showed a white sedan in the area of the King Road homicides.

The last time he saw Kohberger, the man said, was either the last week of November or first week of December — two or three weeks after the incident roughly 9 miles away, which quickly drew national attention to the region. The neighbor said they greeted each other in passing, and he didn’t notice or remember anything different about Kohberger from that short interaction.

He jogged his memory with the Statesman on Sunday, recalling his walk with Kohberger in August — what he said was his only substantive conversation with his neighbor. Their other exchanges entailed the two students just saying hello, and Kohberger suggesting they go on a hike together sometime.

As they strolled the complex’s parking lot at the end of the fall semester’s first week of classes, they talked over the sounds in the area of college students socializing, he said.

“Many people here were partying, and you could hear it all over the city,” the neighbor said. “He said he was not into partying. He said they’re wasting their time, something like that.”

Kohberger shared with him that he ate only one meal per day, the man said. Kohberger is vegan and has requested his meals in jail be in accordance with his preferred diet, NewsNation reported.

Over the course of Kohberger and his neighbor’s conversation, which included discussion of their areas of research in separate WSU doctoral programs, the man said he couldn’t recall Kohberger ever smiling or laughing.

“He was kind of serious — a very serious person,” the neighbor said.

Investigators also appear interested in the man’s recollections of Kohberger. Detectives with the Moscow Police Department last week contacted him about their relationship, he said, after they found his cellphone number in Kohberger’s phone.

“Just how we met each other, what was his personality, these kinds of things,” he told the Statesman, declining to offer more specifics, citing the nature of the situation and law enforcement’s involvement.

Moscow Police Capt. Anthony Dahlinger, spokesperson for the department, would not confirm to the Statesman that investigators contacted and interviewed the neighbor, citing a gag order in the case. Latah County Judge Megan Marshall issued the nondissemination order on Jan. 3, barring law enforcement and attorneys from making statements outside of submitted court records.

The neighbor also said he provided police with a screenshot of his and Kohberger’s brief text thread, which included just two messages, starting off with the man confirming his number to Kohberger after their Aug. 26 walk. The screenshot, reviewed by the Statesman, included a phone number with an eastern Washington area code, with the last four digits 8458. In the affidavit, police previously identified Kohberger’s cellphone number having the same last four digits.

“Hey (neighbor)! How is your semester so far?” a text dated Sept. 21 that appeared to be from Kohberger read. The neighbor said he was too busy to reply at the time, and then later forgot. The two didn’t text again, he said.

The neighbor said he didn’t return to Pullman until after investigators performed a search of Kohberger’s apartment on Dec. 30. A Whitman County Superior Court judge sealed those search warrants until March 1, citing threats to the public and law enforcement, and maintaining the integrity of the investigation.

“Premature public disclosure of the details of this law enforcement investigation will create a serious and imminent threat to law enforcement, and could result in the premature end of this investigation which could create a threat to public safety,” Judge Gary Libey wrote in the records, obtained by the Statesman.

Other neighbors recall night owl, mention of homicides

On Sunday, when a Statesman reporter visited Kohberger’s apartment building, nearby tenants were mostly reluctant to answer questions. The resident directly below Kohberger’s second-story unit had a sign taped to the front door: “No Interviews. Thank you.”

Several other neighbors either declined Statesman requests to speak about Kohberger or said they didn’t know him. Angela Alvarez, a WSU senior psychology major, lives with her family in the other first-floor unit in Kohberger’s building, but said she was unavailable to talk.

She previously told The Daily Beast that Kohberger was a night owl who generally kept to himself. He was frequently gone, Alvarez said, and she’d rarely see him before midnight. He would usually park his white Elantra right in front of her unit, she said.

“I always see his headlights flash in my front windows,” Alvarez said.

The parking space was one of the few vacant in front of the building Sunday. As police took Kohberger into custody in eastern Pennsylvania, they also seized his vehicle.

Another unidentified neighbor told CBS News last week that Kohberger at one point mentioned the Moscow killings to him.

“He brought it up in conversation, asked if I had heard about the murders, which I did,” the man said. “And then he said, ‘It seems like they have no leads. It seems like it was a crime of passion.’”

Moscow Mayor Art Bettge used the same phrase a day after the homicides in an interview with The New York Times, before walking it back as just one of a number of possibilities.

A classmate of Kohberger’s in WSU’s graduate criminal justice and criminology program told the Statesman earlier this month that Kohberger was known for being outspoken and sharing his opinions during class. But when the nearby homicides were brought up during a class discussion, Kohberger stayed quiet.

“He was completely silent,” the classmate said.

Kohberger made his second appearance in Idaho court last week and remains in Latah County Jail with no bond. He is next scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on June 26.