Confusion over Idaho murders as police walk back ‘targeted’ claim and accuse prosecutor of ‘miscommunication’

Confusion continues to mount around the unsolved University of Idaho murders as investigators appeared to walk back their claim that one or more of the victims was “targeted” in the brutal attack and accused the local prosecutor of “miscommunication”.

On Wednesday, Moscow Police Department released a statement saying that they actually “do not currently know” if the killer specifically targeted the victims or the off-campus home on King Road that became the site of the bloodbath.

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

It came after Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson gave conflicting statements about the nature of the crime this week.

On Tuesday, he appeared to walk back the longstanding belief that the killings were targeted, saying that it was “perhaps not the best word to use”.

“It seems like the word targeted has different understandings for different people who are listening and perhaps isn’t the best word to use,” he told NewsNation on Tuesday.

“The bottom line is whoever is responsible for this is still at large – that can’t be changed. My understanding is that investigators believe that whoever is responsible was specifically looking at this particular residence but that’s all that they can offer at this point.”

Mr Thompson added that investigators were unable to confirm “at this point” if one or more of the students was the intended target.

On Wednesday, he then gave a different interview where he told KTVB that the “attack was intended for a specific person”.

Hours later, Moscow Police released a “clarification” on their Facebook page stating: “Conflicting information has been released over the past 24 hours. The Latah County Prosecutor’s Office stated the suspect(s) specifically looked at this residence, and that one or more of the occupants were undoubtedly targeted.

“We have spoken with the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office and identified this was a miscommunication. Detectives do not currently know if the residence or any occupants were specifically targeted but continue to investigate.”

The so-called clarification has only added to the confusion around the case as it contradicts several earlier statements made by officials.

Ever since the four students – Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin – were stabbed to death on 13 November, investigators have described the attacks as “targeted”.

They have used the phrase in multiple press conferences and media interviews all the while refusing to reveal what has led them to that conclusion or whether only one of the victims was the intended target – with the others simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the early days of the investigation, Moscow Police even went as far as to insist that there was “no imminent threat” to the wider community because it was “an isolated, targeted attack” – despite having no suspects even on their radar.

Three days on from the killing, they then walked back that assertion, admitting that – with the perpetrator still at large – “there is a threat” and urging the public to stay “vigilant”.

Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves (top left), Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin (bottom left) were stabbed to death back in the off-campus home (right) (Jazzmin Kernodle/The Moscow-Pullman Daily New/AP)
Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves (top left), Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin (bottom left) were stabbed to death back in the off-campus home (right) (Jazzmin Kernodle/The Moscow-Pullman Daily New/AP)

In the last press conference given on the case last week, Moscow Police Captain Roger Lanier doubled down on the belief that the victims were “targeted”, telling the public that “you’re going to have to trust us on that”.

“We’ve told the public very clearly from the beginning that we believe it was a targeted attack,” he said.

“To be honest, you’re going to have to trust us on that at this point, because we’re not going to release why we think that.”

The latest reversal comes as investigators continue to be stumped by the case, with no arrests made, no suspects identified and the murder weapon still not found 18 days on from the murders.

The four victims are believed to have been stabbed to death in their beds at around 3am or 4am on 13 November with a fixed-blade knife, police said. There was no signs of sexual assault on any of the victims.

Two of the victims were found on the second floor and two on the third floor of the home.

On the night of 12 November, Kernodle and Chapin were at a sorority party at Sigma Chi house together and arrived back at the home at around 1.45am.

Goncalves and Mogen had spent the night at The Corner Club bar in downtown Moscow, before stopping by a food truck and then getting a ride home from an unnamed “private party” to arrive at the property at around 1.56am.

Two surviving roommates were also out that night and arrived home at around 1am, police said. The two women, who lived in rooms on the first floor of the home, are believed to have slept through the brutal killings and were unharmed.

The horrific crime scene went unnoticed for several more hours, with police receiving a 911 call at 11.58am on Sunday, reporting an “unconscious individual” at the home.

The two other roommates had first called friends to the home because they believed one of the second floor victims was unconscious and would not wake up. When the friends arrived, a 911 call was made from one of the roommates’ phones.

Police arrived on the scene to find the four victims dead from multiple stab wounds.

Vigil held on Wednesday for the four slain students (NewsNation)
Vigil held on Wednesday for the four slain students (NewsNation)

Several people have been ruled out as suspects: the two surviving housemates, the man who was caught on camera with Mogen and Goncalves at a food truck in the downtown area before they headed home on the night of the slayings, the person who gave Mogen and Goncalves a ride home from the food truck, Goncalves’ former long-term boyfriend and the friends who were in the home when the 911 call was made have all been ruled out as suspects.

Officials are now hoping that a break will finally come as the first crime scene lab results have started to come back.

Idaho State Police Communications Director Aaron Snell told Fox News Digital on Wednesday that investigators were starting to receive the results from forensic testing.

“I do know that each type of testing… some take longer than others. And I also do know that there have been results that have been returned and those go directly to the investigators, so that way they can help, again, paint that picture as we keep talking about,” he said.

Mr Snell refused to reveal whether DNA that did not belong to the four victims or the two surviving roommates had been found at the crime scene as it is hoped that the forensics could finally provide some clues to lead police to the killer.

But with officials admitting that they still don’t have a person of interest or suspect on their radar, the small college town has been left racked by fear.

Police revealed there has been a surge in 911 calls in the aftermath of the murders, with terrified residents reporting multiple sightings of “suspicious people” as well as concerning incidents around the town.