It could have been anyone, in any college town in the United States, on any Saturday night. This is how typical the behavior of students murdered in Moscow, Idaho, hours before they were brutally stabbed to death was typical.
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-capacity Kibbie Dome. It was 28 degrees at kickoff – the weather was listed as a daunting “ice fog” – but happy and loyal fans showed up; The Vandals’ 44-26 loss was disappointing but didn’t deter the students from preparing to hit the city.
Among them were five girls who lived in a three-bedroom rented house on King Road, just over a mile from the stadium and just two blocks from the campus boundary. Kaylee Goncalves and Maddie Mogen, both 21 and childhood best friends, were heading to the downtown bars together. Xana Kernodle, 20, was planning to date her boyfriend, 20-year-old Ethan Chapin. The girls’ other two roommates would also spend the night out.
Moscow’s city of 25,000 is, in reality, centered around the university. Situated on more than 1,600 acres on the southwest corner of downtown, UI is the largest employer around, and its 11,500 membership represents nearly half of Moscow’s population. Students are spread out in off-campus housing, sharing apartments, rented houses, fraternities, and fraternity houses.
The girls’ house was among the closest to campus, set up and against a hill amidst other houses and business developments, all with the look of college student decor: fairy lights, chipped paint, second-hand furniture, and cars used outside. The King Road townhouse was known for hosting parties; roommates even tease each other about it in TikTok videos.
The five young housemates were reportedly well liked, with most, if not all, involved in fraternities. Xana’s boyfriend—who was a triplet—was a member of the Signa Chi fraternity, along with her brother, Hunter. Sigma Chi’s house, on Nez Perce Drive, is almost visible from the girls’ house at 1122 King Road; the walk down the hill, across a road and meadow and up another hill is roughly the length of a football field and a half.
Small downtown Moscow is also within walking distance of King Road and the campus, though most students, particularly in the harsh Idaho winters, will get a ride. It’s unclear how Kaylee and Maddie made their way to Main Street, but by 10:30 p.m. the young women were at the Corner Club, a sunroom with its own party bus that’s a “city staple,” according to Dylan Bartels senior at the ‘UI, 22.
It has a large customer base but is especially popular with members of fraternities and sororities, students say The independent. Like many colleges in the Greek system, there is a large gap between Greek and non-Greek social life, the students said, but there is no palpable animosity and everyone tends to coexist amicably. Maddie, Xana, and another roommate were members of Pi Beta Phi; Kaylee committed to Alpha Phi.
Kaylee and Maddie, both blonde and bubbly, were dressed in college bar casuals: Kaylee in washed-out ripped jeans and an Idaho sweatshirt, Maddie in a black jacket, darker denim jeans, and black shoes. They spent about three hours at the Corner Club at the north end of Main Street; when they left, the streets were swarming with other college kids scavenging for food and amusement rides as they finished off the night.
The two walked straight up Main Street to a red brick building that housed the now-defunct Garden Lounge; a favorite food truck, Grub Wandering Kitchen – affectionately referred to as the 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 received a lift home from a “private party” and returned to King Road at around 1.45am.
Xana and Ethan, meanwhile, had gone to a party across the street at Sigma Chi. The fraternity house is built into the hillside and slopes upward, facing Nez Perce Drive, which winds through the campus and passes the arboretum, just a short walk higher. The grounds of the UI Arboretum and Botanical Garden are large, beautiful and overlook Taylor Road, just a block from the girls’ house, which you have to walk across to get to Sigma Chi. That same road winds west past the arboretum, climbing into a hilly residential neighborhood; to the east, it intersects with Highway 95.
Police specifically requested surveillance footage from areas around the highway and 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 occupied at the time, surrounded by other student accommodation, as other young people were also heading home. The bars close at 2 in the morning.
King Road’s other two housemates – who have not yet been named by authorities – had returned home first, around 1 a.m., and had fallen asleep, according to police.
Maddie and Kaylee both made multiple calls to the same number about an hour after they got home; Kaylee’s sister said the unanswered calls were made to Jack DeCoeur, who dated her sister for years before they amicably split, still sharing a dog named Murphy. The Goncalves family said they do not believe DeCoeur was involved in the crime and police said he is not considered a suspect.
Aside from the calls, the rest of the night remains a mystery. Authorities believe one or more killers stabbed Ethan, Xana, Kaylee and Maddie to death between 3:00 and 4:00; their bodies were found on the second and third floors of the house. The surviving housemates, who were in the basement, slept through everything that transpired and only woke up hours later, police said.
“The surviving housemates summoned friends to the residence because they believed one of the victims on the second floor had passed out and was not waking up,” the Moscow police department said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “At 11:58 a 911 call asked for help for an unconscious person. The call came from inside the residence on one of the surviving housemates’ cell phones. Several people spoke to the 911 dispatcher before a Moscow police officer arrived at the scene.
It’s unclear 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 call a “fixed blade knife”.
They haven’t found the weapon yet.
According to autopsies completed last week, the victims “probably were asleep, some had defense wounds and each was stabbed several times. There was no sign of sexual assault,” police wrote on Facebook.
Latah County medical examiner Cathy Mabbutt said the injuries were “pretty extensive” and told NBC News that each victim was stabbed a different number of times and in different places on the body.
He added that the order in which the four victims were attacked could not be determined from the injuries. He told the local outlet Idaho News that autopsies revealed one thing: “It’s personal.”
Since 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 killings – with no critical updates. As Moscow readied for a somber Thanksgiving, the city was in fear and no response.