Washington state college town reels amid Idaho stabbing investigation
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PULLMAN, Wash. – The spring semester began here Monday in a city reeling and traumatized by the latest news of the slayings of four University of Idaho students, days after the public learned the suspect had been living among them for weeks.
Fear and grief had gripped Pullman after the stabbings near Moscow, Idaho, but few at Washington State University imagined the man who would be accused of the brutal crimes was in town. Now, despite the arrest of 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger, fears have grown rather than subsided, some in Pullman said, thanks to information revealed in authorities’ charging document Thursday, just five days before classes were to resume.
One woman said she had trouble sleeping; another continued to replay the daily walks that took him past the suspect’s apartment. Professors were in trauma seminars, and one of Kohberger’s former students said the school appeared to be removing his email history.
“It’s kind of like your sense of security is shattered,” said Kim Sheets, an anthropology graduate student who lives in the apartment complex where Kohberger had lived. “I’ve never felt unsafe here before,” she said, adding, “I’m more careful now.”
Kohberger, who was enrolled in WSU’s criminal justice doctoral program, was arrested Dec. 30 in Albrightsville, Pa., in the Pocono Mountains, where his family lives, and extradited to Idaho. He was charged with the Nov. 13 slayings of Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, at their off-campus home in Moscow, where the killings horrified students and left the University of Idaho campus grieving.
A Pennsylvania public defender previously said Kohberger, who agreed to be extradited to Idaho, believed he would be exonerated.
Authorities opened court records on Jan. 5, nearly a week after suspect Bryan Kohberger was arrested for killing four Idaho students. (Video: Joy Yi/The Washington Post, Photo: Matt Rourke/AP/The Washington Post)
Police had shared little about the progress of the investigation after the early morning attack, leading some victims’ families to publicly worry that the case had gone cold. But the affidavit unsealed Thursday detailed how authorities said they used DNA, a witness account, cell records and surveillance footage to charge Kohberger with four counts of murder and one count of burglary.
It was those details, along with the knowledge that Kohberger had stayed in Pullman after the murders until winter break, that many students and faculty members were still grappling with this weekend.
The university’s criminal justice faculty spent the past week undergoing crisis and trauma training, said an academic who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The faculty is reeling from the news that one of their students has been charged with the murders, the person said.
“I really can’t say anything,” said the academic. “They are crushed there.”
One professor declined to comment and 12 did not respond to questions. University spokesman Phil Weiler did not respond to multiple emails including a list of questions.
Other signs of the city’s distress were easy to spot. A graduate student had arrived in Pullman a few days earlier to move in for the semester, but his landlords told him they were backing out: Concerned by the murders, they had changed their minds about renting the apartment.
Even with a suspect in custody, the student and his roommate — who were moving into the Steptoe apartment complex where Kohberger had been living — said Saturday they were worried. Neither wanted to be identified by name due to security concerns.
“This is supposed to be a safe city. Nothing ever happens,” his roommate said. “People are more careful now. Everyone is closing their doors.”
Sheets, who also lives in the complex, said it was difficult to see the images of her home plastered on television news and the address published in the affidavit. She continues to think about how she walked her dog by Kohberger’s apartment almost every day, saw his white Hyundai Elantra in the parking lot and worked in the same building on campus as him.
Maricel Wallace, 36, said she and her husband let their children, ages 6 and 10, visit the playground outside Kohberger’s apartment unsupervised. After the Idaho attacks, Wallace’s husband bought security sensors for their windows and began locking their doors.
“I can not sleep. “I have nightmares,” Wallace said. “I thought it was a very safe community. … It’s difficult. It’s really hard.”
Apart from protective security, many are being bunkered down by journalists who have descended on a normally sleepy community. A Washington Post reporter found the road outside the victims’ Moscow home, about 11 miles from Kohberger’s Pullman apartment, still lined with news crews seeking answers Saturday.
More than a half-dozen people associated with WSU told The Post they could not speak or referred a reporter to Weiler. Some who worked or lived at the Steptoe university-owned apartment complex said the school instructed them not to speak to reporters.
Emails from Kohberger have been removed from the university system, said a student who had Kohberger as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate criminal law class last semester.
“He’s still listed as a contact, but all of our emails from him are gone,” the student said in a text message Saturday.
WSU also removed its online student directory for the criminal justice program, saying the move was meant to protect the privacy of graduate students.
Meanwhile, a blanket order barring police, prosecutors and defense lawyers from commenting publicly remains in place.
In a public letter last week, WSU-Pullman Chancellor Elizabeth S. Chilton told community members they could choose whether to speak to reporters and said they could direct questions to the school’s director of marketing. She also said students can request to change their email addresses and remove contact information from the student directory.
The announcement of the arrest of Kohberger, who is no longer enrolled at the school, “has shocked our communities,” Chilton wrote in the letter.
“I hope the coming days and weeks will provide us all with answers and additional information about the nature of this incident,” she wrote.
Kohberger, booked into Idaho’s Latah County Jail, is scheduled to appear in court Thursday. If he ultimately pleads guilty or is found guilty, he could face life in prison or the death penalty in Idaho.
The affidavit provided the most detailed picture yet of the evidence investigators say they collected. Authorities say they matched DNA from a knife sheath found near Mogen’s body and obtained cell phone records showing Kohberger’s phone had been near the victims’ neighborhood at least a dozen times in the months before the murders.
Police also said they spoke with a surviving roommate who believes he saw the killer, and video surveillance showed a white Elantra speeding away from the home at 4:20 a.m.
“It’s extremely significant,” retired NYPD Sergeant Joseph Giacalone said of the evidence. “Unlike what you see on television, this is a textbook case.”
Giacalone, an adjunct professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, called the authorities’ strategy of withholding developments from the public “good police work,” allowing investigators to compile evidence without releasing information about the suspect.
Giacalone, who has been following the case, said investigators may reveal more in subsequent filings and hearings about what they found at Kohberger’s home after they arrested him. For example, his laptop could reveal more about how he spent his time during his first semester at Washington State.
In high school, Kohberger was known as shy and socially awkward, said classmate Roula Theodoropoulos, 29. She recalled that he had come to graduation parties at her house alone and would only talk to people he already knew. In conversations in his car, Theodoropoulos said, Kohberger told her he was depressed.
“He was really smart and the way he described his sadness was really deep — something I couldn’t understand at 19,” Theodoropoulos said.
In Pullman, the agitation and grief that continued on and off campus seemed unlikely to go away anytime soon. Nephi Duff, who lives in the Steptoe Apartments, recalled never seeing Kohberger despite living in the building next door.
“[I was] I was surprised there was someone like that so close,” Duff said. “It’s bad. I have a 3-year-old daughter and there’s someone who killed four people next door.”
Kornfield, Salcedo and McDaniel reported from Washington. Marisa Iati contributed to this report.