Washington state college town reels amid Idaho stabbing investigation


PULLMAN, Wash. — The spring semester started here Monday in a town unsettled and traumatized by the latest information in the killings of four University of Idaho students, days after the public learned that the suspect had been living in their midst for weeks.

Fear and grief had rippled through Pullman after the fatal stabbings in nearby Moscow, Idaho, but few at Washington State University had imagined the man who would be charged with the brutal crimes was in town. Now, despite the arrest of 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger, the fear has heightened not abated, some in Pullman said, thanks to the information revealed in authorities’ charging document Thursday, just five days before classes resumed.

One woman said she was having trouble sleeping; another kept replaying the daily walks that took her past the suspect’s apartment. Professors were in trauma workshops, and one of Kohberger’s former students said the school appeared to be removing his email history.

“It’s kind of like your feeling of safety is shattered,” said Kim Sheets, a graduate student in anthropology who lives in the apartment complex where Kohberger had resided. “I’ve never felt unsafe here before,” she said, adding, “ I’m more cautious 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 in the Nov. 13 killings of Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, at their off- campus home in Moscow, where the killings terrified students and have left the University of Idaho campus grieving.

A public defender in Pennsylvania previously said Kohberger, who agreed to be extradited to Idaho, believed he would be exonerated.

Authorities unsealed court records on Jan. 5, nearly a week after suspect Bryan Kohberger was arrested for the killings of 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 in the wake of the early-morning attack, leading some victims’ families to publicly worry whether 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 a burglary count.

5 details about the Idaho killings from the affidavit

It was those details, along with the knowledge that Kohberger had stayed in Pullman after the killings until winter break, that many students and faculty members were still grappling with this weekend.

The university’s criminal justice faculty spent last week in crisis and trauma training, said an academic who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The faculty is reeling from the news that one of their students stood of the ill accusing , the person said.

“I really can’t say anything,” the academic said. “They are crushed over there.”

One professor declined to comment, and 12 did not respond to inquiries. The university’s spokesperson, Phil Weiler, did not respond to multiple emails including a list of questions.

Other signs of the city’s unease were easy to find. One graduate student had arrived in Pullman a few days ago to move in for the semester only to be told by his landlords that they were backing out: Unnerved by the killings, they had changed their mind about renting the apartment.

Even with a suspicion in custody, the student and his roommate — who were moving into the Steptoe apartment complex where Kohberger had lived — said on Saturday they felt easy. Neither wanted to be identified by name because of safety concerns.

“This is supposed to be a safe town. Nothing ever happens,” his roommate said. “People are more cautious now. Everyone is double-locking their doors.”

Sheets, who also lives in the complex, said it was difficult to see images of her home plastered on TV news and the address published in the affidavit. She keeps thinking about how she walked her dog by Kohberger’s apartment almost daily, saw his white white Elantra in the parking lot and worked in the same building on campus as he did.

Maricel Wallace, 36, said she and her husband used to let their children, ages 6 and 10, visit the playground outside Kohberger’s apartment unsupervised. After the attacks in Idaho, Wallace’s husband bought security sensors for their windows and began their double-locking .

“I can’t sleep. I have nightmares,” Wallace said. “I thought it was a very safe community. … It’s hard. It’s really hard.”

In addition to bulwarking security, many are bunkering from reporters who have descended on a normally sleepy community. A Washington Post reporter found the street outside the victims’ house in Moscow, about 11 miles from Kohberger’s Pullman apartment, still lined with news crews seekers on Saturday.

More than half a dozen people affiliated with WSU told The Post they could not talk or referred a reporter to Weiler. Some who were working or living at the university-owned Steptoe apartment complex said the school instructed them not to speak to journalists.

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 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 action was meant to protect the graduate students’ privacy.

Meanwhile, a sweeping gag order that prohibits the 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 forward inquiries to the school’s marketing director. and remove their 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 am hopeful that the coming days and weeks will provide all of us with additional answers and information about the nature of this incident,” she wrote.

New details released in Idaho killings as suspect appears in court

Kohberger, booked in Idaho’s Latah County Jail, is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday. If he eventually pleads guilty or is found guilty, he could face life in prison or the death penalty in Idaho.

The affidavit offered the most detailed glimpse yet of the evidence investigators say they gathered. Authorities say they matched DNA from a knife sheath found beside Mogen’s body and obtained cell records showing Kohberger’s phone had been near the victims’ neighborhoods in the do le months before the killings.

Police also said they spoke with a surviving roommate who they think saw the killer, and video surveillance showed a white Elantra speeding from the house at 4:20 am

“It’s extremely significant,” retired New York Police Department 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 to withhold developments from the public “good police work,” allowing investigators to compile evidence while not tipping off the suspect.

Giacalone, who has followed the case, said investigators may reveal more in subsequent filings and hearings about what they found in Kohberger’s home after they arrested him. For instance, 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, classmate Roula Theodoropoulos, 29, said. She recalled him arriving alone to post-graduation parties at her house and talking only to people he already knew. said, Kohberger used to tell her that he was depressed.

“He was really smart, and the way that he described his sadness was really deep — something that I couldn’t fathom at 19 years old,” Theodoropoulos said.

In Pullman, the agitation and grief lingering on and off campus appeared unlikely to go away soon. Nephi Duff, who lives in the Steptoe apartments, recalled never seeing Kohberger despite living in the building next door.

“[I was] Surprised that there was somebody like that so close,” Duff said. “It sucks. I’ve got a 3-year-old daughter, and there’s somebody who potentially killed four people next door.”

Kornfield, Salcedo and McDaniel reported from Washington. Marisa Iati contributed to this report.

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