Police chief leading investigation of Idaho student slayings says families aren’t being excluded

By | December 21, 2022

The police chief of Moscow, Idaho, on Wednesday defended his department’s handling of the investigation into the killings of four university students and pushed back at the notion families are being “left in the dark.

“Every family wants a little bit different information, and we have a liaison with each of the families, that we talked to them daily,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said, adding that the local prosecutor’s office also has a liaison who is in regular contact with victims’ families.

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“We pass on as much information as we can to them. As I stated, there’s information that we’ve held back, and we know that frustrates them,” Fry said of the families. “But we asked them to be patient. We asked them to trust us and that we’re going to continue to move through this until we have a completion in the case.”

The unsolved slayings of the four University of Idaho students in an off-campus residence on Nov. 13 has placed a spotlight on the small police force’s efforts. The case has been dogged by mixed messaging from authorities, who initially said the “targeted attack” posed no lingering threat to the community, although Fry days later told reporters he couldn’t say where the killer or killers may be. No suspect has been named and the weapon — believed to be a large knife — has not been found.

Three of the victims shared the home — Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; and Xana Kernodle, 20 — and the fourth was Kernodle’s boyfriend, Ethan Chapin, 20, who was staying overnight. Authorities believe they were killed in their sleep, although some had defensive wounds.

A spokesman for the Idaho State Police said a family liaison had been assigned since the beginning, “with each family wanting different levels of contact.”

Officers investigate a homicide at an apartment complex south of the University of Idaho campus on Nov. 13.Zach Wilkinson / The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP file

A spokesperson for the Chapin family said in a statement that they are “beyond grateful” for having a police liaison and that “there is an ongoing and open line of communication so we remain knowledgeable about any new happening before the public.”

The Goncalves family has been vocal about what they perceive as poor communication during the investigation.

Shanon Gray, a lawyer for the Goncalves family, also said that while a Moscow police official sends an email to them once a day, information has fallen through the cracks.

Kristi Goncalves, Kaylee’s mother, told NBC’s “TODAY” show last week that authorities never notified her first before they asked the public for tips about a white Hyundai Elantra, a car police have described as a potentially critical clue. Kristi Goncalves said she found out about the vehicle from her daughter, who read about it in news articles.

“The United States just found out the same time I did,” Kristi Goncalves said, adding that the investigation has her feeling “left in the dark.”

Following an inquiry from NBC News, Moscow police forwarded an email including the release that was sent to Gray at 2:24 pm Dec. 7. The spokesperson, Robbie Johnson, said the email was an example of a message aimed at keeping the Goncalves family informed.

But Gray told “TODAY” that he was not sure Moscow police are capable of handling a quadruple homicide, and if that’s the case, they should “turn the investigation over to someone who is more versed in handling these types of matters.”

More in-depth coverage of the Idaho student slayings

Fry told NBC News on Wednesday that his department can handle the investigation, which is getting help from dozens of state and federal agents with expertise in crime scene analysis and DNA collection.

But he declined to speak in detail about the case or best leads, saying that police must protect the integrity of the investigation and also don’t want to taint a potential jury pool if there is a trial.

“I know that’s very frustrating,” Fry said. “It’s frustrating to family members and [the] community, but our end goal is to bring somebody to justice for those families and for those victims.”

But Gray said “time will tell” if the police’s decision to hold back certain details in the case has been the right one.

“Trust is earned,” Gray said Wednesday, “and they need to remember that because the way they have handled things so far haven’t garnered much trust.”

Tim Stelloh other DavidDouglas contributed.

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