Killings of 4 University of Idaho students may not have been targeted attack, police say, walking back on prior statement

Police investigating the grisly killings of four University of Idaho students are walking back on a prior statement, now saying it is not known if the residence where the bodies were found or its occupants were “specifically targeted.”

Friends Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; and Xana Kernodle, 20; and her boyfriend Ethan Chapin, 20, were found fatally stabbed at an off-campus home in Moscow, Idaho, on Nov. 13, and their killer remains a mystery.

The Latah County Prosecutor’s Office had previously stated that the “suspect(s) specifically looked at this residence” and “one or more of the occupants were undoubtedly targeted.” On Wednesday, the Moscow Police Department said this was a “miscommunication.”

“Detectives do not currently know if the residence or any occupants were specifically targeted but continue to investigate,” police said. 

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

NBC News has reached out to the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office for clarification on their statement.

Moscow Police also previously described the homicides as “a targeted attack” carried out with an “edged weapon” on Nov. 15, two days after the bodies were found. Investigators have not disclosed their basis for that initial conclusion.

Nearly three weeks have passed since the slayings — described by a local coroner as one of the most “gruesome” she had ever seen — leaving families and the public with many questions.

This isn’t the first time Moscow’s police force of 36 officers and personnel in the largely rural city of almost 26,000 residents has delivered mixed messaging in the case.

Another point on which police have walked back on is whether there’s a threat to the community.

In the hours after the victims’ bodies were discovered in their private residence about a half-block from the university, Moscow police told the public that while “there is no one in custody,” the department “does not believe there is an ongoing community risk.”

Two days later, officials continued to say there was “no imminent threat.”

But that changed the following day: “We cannot say there is no threat to the community,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said at a news conference Nov. 16.

Such unclear answers may have given whoever fatally stabbed the students more time to flee, law enforcement experts say.

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