Nine days after the killing of four University of Idaho college students, police have not arrested a suspect but are “definitely making progress,” according to an outside public information official.
“It takes a while to piece together and piece together the entire timeline of events and the picture of what really happened,” said Aaron Snell, Idaho State Police communications director. “A lot of this isn’t seen by the public because it’s a criminal investigation. But I guarantee you, there is so much work going on behind the scenes.”
This work includes interviews with more than 90 people while detectives investigate more than 700 leads.
But Moscow, a city of about 26,000 people, hasn’t recorded a homicide since 2015. The quadruple homicide has rocked the small college community, and fears have only been heightened by the continued lack of answers.
Much of the information in the case ends up being used for law enforcement and cannot be made public because of the risk of obstructing justice at the very end, Snell said.
But the limited details available to the public and confusion over early police statements have not eased community concerns.
The Moscow police initially informed the public that it was a targeted attack without any further threat to the public. But on Day Four, Police Chief Jason Fry amended that statement: “We can’t say there isn’t a threat to the community.”
Snell concedes that the early notification may have failed because the 30 or so members of the Moscow Police Department initially all responded at the scene, with no dedicated public information staff in the department.
Within days, the department had to bring in outside resources to aid the investigation, including Snell.
In addition to the hundreds of leads, police are also combing through large files of surveillance footage submitted by local residents in the early hours when police believe the killings happened.
“This is a very big operation, a very big investigation, and a very horrific crime,” Snell said.
At other angles, the examination takes longer. A fixed-blade knife is believed to have been used in the attack on the students, and to aid the investigation, law enforcement officials asked local businesses to provide evidence that a fixed-blade knife was purchased. As of Tuesday, Snell says no local company has provided information that a knife matching that description has been purchased or received.
Anytime a person or people responsible for such a violent crime have not yet been caught, there is a threat to the public, Snell said.
“We recognize that it is always wise for people to lock their doors, walk in pairs and be mindful of what they are doing. Somewhere out there is someone or some people who are murderers and we want to find them and bring them to justice,” Snell said.
He told CNN that more than one person could possibly be responsible for the murders. He also reiterated that police still believe the attack was a targeted attack, partly based on evidence found at the scene and the fact that two people survived inside the home.
Some students have since left the area to take distance classes, telling CNN the police statements were not reassuring.
The University of Idaho president said Tuesday that many students have shared with the school how they plan to proceed after fall break, leading to a decision to allow students to finish the remainder of the semester either in person or remotely.
In his message, University of Idaho President Scott Green said, “Faculty has been asked to prepare in-person and distance learning options to allow each student to choose their method of engagement for the last two weeks of the semester. Moving classes entirely online is not preferred but may be necessary in limited situations.”
However, others in the community, including victim Ethan Chapin’s mother, have shown patience and gratitude for the police department’s work.
At a memorial service Monday night, Stacy Chapin thanked the “Moscow Police Department who now every day carry the burden not just for us but for all the families affected.”
In the absence of details, rumors about the case circulated, leading the police to gradually dispel them publicly.
“As people are out there talking about this case, public opinion is changing,” Snell said. “You are confused. You are upset. We want to try to dispel rumors and we want to make sure the truth is out there.”
Investigators have “extensively” examined hundreds of pieces of information about victim Kaylee Goncalves, who has a stalker, but “have not been able to verify or identify a stalker,” police said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Earlier, police said the surviving housemates and friends who made the 911 call and spoke to dispatchers had been disqualified from being involved as suspects. A man who was seen standing near two of the victims on surveillance video was also eliminated as a suspect, as was a driver who was taking two of the victims home.
And the report of a “skinned” dog three weeks before the killings is unrelated to the case, police say.
Moscow police said Monday a dog was found at the home of the stabbing, but “the dog was unharmed and was handed over to animal services and then handed over to a responsible party.”