A new and disturbing way of life has gripped the small college town of Moscow, Idaho since four college students were murdered near their campus.
Police presence has increased, students have fled en masse, and community members are gripped by fear and anxiety as the case remains unsolved.
The town of some 26,000 people had not recorded a single murder since 2015 before it was rocked. Four students from the University of Idaho – Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21 — were found stabbed to death on the second and third floors of their off-campus joint house, authorities say.
The university’s usually crowded parking lots had plenty of empty spots after many students decided to leave the area early, before their fall vacation began. Many left because of the emotional hardship of staying on campus, according to Tanner McClain, president of the University of Idaho Student Associates, the school’s student governing body.
“The whole situation has been just terrifying from the start,” McClain told CNN. “I’m on the other side of the state right now, and I’m still scared of the overall situation.”
Nearly a week after the murders shattered Moscow’s sense of security, the community remains nervous as police release more details of the students’ deaths, locate the weapon used to carry out the heinous attacks and, ultimately , identifies and catches a suspect.
Some students, like Emma Vigil, a senior, said “there are no plans” to return to campus until police take a suspect into custody.
“I don’t know how anyone is supposed to feel safe or go back. All my friends are gone,” Vigil, who lives a short walk from the house where the four students were killed, told CNN this week.
“I don’t know how I could be safe if they didn’t catch the person who did it,” Vigil added.
The University of Idaho is offering resources to employees and students to help them cope, including walk-in counseling, support for therapy dogs, and additional on-campus security guards to escort students. students across campus, according to a statement.
“We must remain flexible this week and allow our students and colleagues the opportunity to handle these unprecedented events in their own way. Students, you are encouraged to do what is good for you. Whether it’s going home early or staying in class, you have our support,” university president Scott Green said in a statement Thursday.
Many professors canceled classes last week, including Zachary Turpin, assistant professor of American literature, who wrote on Twitter he “cannot, in good conscience, hold class” until police release more information or identify a suspect in the murders.
Other schools near the university campus have also tightened security following the attacks. The Moscow School District, which serves about 2,200 students, said Idaho State Police increased their presence near public schools in the city on Thursday and Friday, to help local police with the investigation. on the murder.
Superintendent Greg Bailey told CNN the loss “hit everyone in the community,” which has rarely, if ever, experienced this level of collective tragedy.
Bailey said the school district already has security measures in place with automatically locked doors and cameras. Counselors and teachers actively monitor their elementary, junior high, and high school students to see if they are experiencing stress levels.
“I think everyone is a little scared of this scenario because they haven’t identified the perpetrator,” Bailey said, “People are alert, and that’s obviously the discussion.”
“We just have to sit back and wait for more information to become available, but it’s understood that they can’t get all the information so that [police] may have a better chance of catching the person.
The atmosphere on campus “has completely changed” since the tragedy, said McClain, a 21-year-old junior who left town Tuesday to stay with his sister in the Boise area. The campus was inundated with police, security and reporters this week, McClain said.
“I was there yesterday and I never saw [the] campus, the atmosphere, this dark front,” McClain said Tuesday. “The campus is generally very lively, very, very fun, very bright. There are always things happening, there are always activities, there are always events taking place.
McClain said he intended to return to campus to complete the semester out of a sense of responsibility as student body president to bring the community together during this time.
“It’s very sad to see, you know, how this tragedy comes, you know, really devastated our little local community,” he said.
All four victims were active in the Greek community, which connected them with many members of the school’s fraternities and sororities.
Between long pauses and with an emotional heaviness in his voice, McClain described in a CNN interview how the group of four friends touched the lives of “countless students” and said he noticed a significant number of students part of Greek life fled. campus this week.
“Everyone in Greek life in Moscow knows each other in one way or another, which is why the loss…just devastated that community,” McClain said.
Community unease was heightened after Moscow police, who initially said there was no threat to the public and described the killings as a ‘targeted attack’, reversed their position Wednesday.
“We cannot say that there is no threat to the community,” Moscow Police Department chief James Fry said at Wednesday’s press conference. “And as we said, please remain vigilant, report suspicious activity and be aware of your surroundings at all times.”
Jim Chapin, Ethan Chapin’s father, said in a statement this week that the lack of information from the university and local law enforcement “only fuels false rumors and innuendo in the press and media. social issues”, adding that “the silence further aggravates the agony of our family after the murder of our son.
The press conference further upset some students, including graduate student Amanda Bauer.
In an interview with CNN affiliate KLEW, Bauer said it was “scaring to hear them say we’re not totally safe anymore since their first comment, at the start, was that we were safe. So it was definitely a change that made a lot of my friends and I uncomfortable.
Bauer told KLEW she had to stay on campus until Monday, when her flight was due to leave, or she would have left early.
“My home is in California, so my flight isn’t until Monday. But I wish I could get home,” Bauer told KLEW.
Other students told CNN because no attackers have been arrested, the sense of fear on campus is high.
“Everyone kind of went home because they’re scared. … It’s definitely uncomfortable on campus right now,” student Nathan Tinno told CNN.
Another student, Ava Driftmeyer, lives near where the students were killed and described the emotional and mental toll the tragedy has taken on students who feel “helpless” due to the lack of information.
She told CNN that police handled the investigation “poorly” and noted that the community was not equipped to deal with this level of tragedy.
Driftmeyer said she had to stay in the area because of her job and estimated that more than half of the school’s students had left.
“I don’t even think it’s going to be as planned yet. …You know how crazy that is? And the fact that there are no answers is like the worst feeling ever,” she said.
Other students, like Chad Huscrost, decided to stay on campus out of respect for the victims and as a show of support for his community, he told CNN affiliate KLEW.
“They’re not alone right now,” Huscrost told KLEW.
“There is a community, and I think we have to fight back and know that we can overcome fear,” he added.