It could have been anyone, in any US college town, on any Saturday night. That’s how typical the murdered students’ behaviour was in Moscow, Idaho, just hours before they were brutally stabbed to death.
The University of Idaho campus had been busy that day, a sea of gold and silver as the Vandals prepared for a home game against the UC Davis Aggies in the 16,000-seat Kibbie Dome. It was 28 degrees at kickoff – the weather was listed as a daunting “ice fog” – but happy, loyal fans turned out; the Vandals’ 44-26 loss was disappointing but did not deter the students from preparing to hit the town.
Among them were five girls living in a three-bedroom rental home on King Road, just over a mile from the stadium and only two blocks from the edge of campus. Kaylee Goncalves and Maddie Mogen, both 21 and childhood best friends, were heading together to the bars downtown. Xana Kernodle, 20, was planning to hang out with her boyfriend, 20-year-old Ethan Chapin. The girls’ two other female roommates would spend the night out, also.
The 25,000-person town of Moscow, really, is centred on the university. Set over 1,600 acres at the southwest corner of downtown, UI is the largest employer around, and its 11,500-strong enrollment accounts for nearly half of Moscow’s population. Students are scattered around off-campus accommodation, sharing apartments, rental homes, sororities and fraternities.
The girls’ home was among the closest to campus set on and against a hill amidst other affordable houses and complexes, all with the look of undergrad décor: fairy lights, chipping paint, secondhand furniture and used cars outside. The King Road residence was known for hosting parties; the roommates even poke fun at themselves for this in TikTok videos.
The five young roommates were reportedly well-liked, with most, if not all of them, involved in sororities. Xana’s boyfriend – who was a triplet – was a member of Signa Chi fraternity, along with his brother, Hunter. The Sigma Chi house, on Nez Perce Drive, is nearly visible from the girls’ home at 1122 King Road; the walk down the hill, across a road and lawn and up another hill is roughly the length of one and a half football fields.
Moscow’s small downtown is also walkable from King Road and from campus, though most students – particularly in the bitter Idaho winters – will get lifts. It’s unclear how Kaylee and Maddie headed to Main Street, but by 10.30pm, the young women were at Corner Club, a low-slung hotspot with its own party bus that’s a “staple in the town,” according to UI senior Dylan Bartels, 22.
It has a wide customer base but is particularly popular with members of fraternities and sororities, students tell The Independent. Like many colleges in the Greek system, there is a big divide between Greek and non-Greek social life, the students said, but there’s no palpable animosity and everyone tends to co-exist amicably. Maddie, Xana and another roommate were members of Pi Beta Phi; Kaylee pledged with Alpha Phi.
Kaylee and Maddie, both blonde and bubbly, were dressed in college bar casual – Kaylee in stonewashed ripped jeans and an Idaho sweatshirt, Maddie in a black jacket, darker denim jeans and black shoes. They spent around three hours at Corner Club at the northern edge of Main Street; by the time they left, the streets were swarming with other college kids looking for food and rides as they ended the night.
The pair walked straight down Main Street to a red brick building that used to host the now-defunct Garden Lounge; a favourite food truck, Grub Wandering Kitchen - fondly called Grub Truck by its many local fans – often parks outside on Main Street.
Kaylee and Maddie ordered, laughed and chatted with friends as they got their pasta carbonara; according to police, they got a lift home from a “private party” and returned to King Road around 1.45am.
Xana and Ethan, meanwhile, had gone to a party across the road at Sigma Chi. The frat house is built into the hill and slopes upward, facing Nez Perce Drive, which winds through campus and passes the arboretum, just a short walk further uphill. The grounds of the UI Arboretum and Botanical Garden are sweeping, beautiful and back up onto Taylor Road, just a block from the girls’ house, which you have to cross to get to Sigma Chi. That same road winds west pass the arboretum, up into a hilly residential neighbourhood; to the east, it intersects with Highway 95.
Police have specifically asked for surveillance footage from areas around the highway and the arboretum.
Xana and Ethan returned to King Road around the same time as Kaylee and Maddie. It is unclear where they were between 9pm and 1.45am; the area would have been busy at that time, surrounded by other student accommodation, as other young people headed home, too. The bars close at 2am.
The other two roommates at King Road – who have still not been named by authorities – had gotten home first, around 1am, and fallen asleep, according to police.
Maddie and Kaylee both made multiple calls to the same number around an hour after they got home; Kaylee’s sister said the unanswered calls were placed to Jack DeCoeur, who’d dated her sister for years before they amicably split, still sharing a dog named Murphy. The Goncalves family has said they do not believe DeCoeur to be involved in the crime, and police have said he’s not considered a suspect.
Aside from the calls, the rest of the night remains a mystery. Authorities believe a killer or killers fatally stabbed Ethan, Xana, Kaylee and Maddie between 3am and 4am; their bodies were found on the second and third floors of the house. The surviving roommates, who were in the basement, slept through whatever transpired and only woke up hours later, police said.
“The surviving roommates summoned friends to the residence because they believed one of the second-floor victims had passed out and was not waking up,” Moscow Police Department said Sunday in a Facebook post. “At 11.58am a 911 call requested aid for an unconscious person. The call originated from inside the residence on one of the surviving roommates’ cellphones. Multiple people talked with 911 dispatcher before a Moscow Police officer arrived at the location.”
It’s not clear when the “friends” arrived nor who they are, and the circumstances surrounding the 911 call have been murky from the start. But the call sparked the official discovery of a brutal scene, all four victims stabbed with what police are calling a “fix-blade knife.”
They still haven’t found the weapon.
According to autopsies completed last week, the victims “were likely asleep, some had defensive wounds, and each was stabbed multiple times. There was no sign of sexual assault,” police wrote on Facebok.
Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt said the wounds were “pretty extensive” and told NBC News that each victim was stabbed a different amount of times and in different places on the body.
She added that it was not possible to determine from the injuries the order in which the four victims were attacked. She told local outlet Idaho News that the autopsies did reveal one thing: “It’s personal.”
From the start of the investigation, police have said the attack was “targeted” – but have not made any arrests or identified any suspects in the case.
Authorities held another press conference on Wednesday - ten days after the murders - with no critical updates. As Moscow prepared for a sombre Thanksgiving, the town had only fear - and no answers.