3 takeaways from ‘Dateline’ & ‘20/20’ specials on the University of Idaho killings

Idaho

MOSCOW (Idaho Statesman)– NBC’s “Dateline” and ABC’s “20/20” debuted special episodes on Friday evening investigating the quadruple homicide in Moscow, where four University of Idaho students were killed in an off-campus home on King Road.

The four victims were U of I seniors Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum; junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington.

The episodes look into the lives of the four students, featuring some of the victims’ parents and friends. The episodes also include insight from forensic experts who examine 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger, who was arrested on Dec. 30 after detectives used DNA evidence, cell phone records and security footage to identify him as the suspect. Former classmates and students also revealed their shock upon hearing Kohberger was the suspect.

Below are three takeaways from the two specials.

A LOOK INTO HOW PARENTS, FRIENDS HEARD THE NEWS

The Idaho Statesman previously reported that the three women, Kernodle, Mogen and Goncalves lived at the King Road residence with two surviving roommates. Chapin was staying the night with Kernodle, his girlfriend.

Kristi Goncalves, mother of Kaylee Goncalves, told NBC’s Keith Morrison that her daughter had recently moved out of the King Road residence, but returned the weekend of Nov. 12 to spend time with Mogen, her best friend since sixth grade. Goncalves was preparing to graduate in December and had a job lined up at a tech firm in Austin, Texas.

On Nov. 13, Goncalves’ mother said she received a call from a relative with connections in Moscow. The relative told her “something bad happened to Kaylee.” Goncalves then tried calling her daughter, who did not answer, so she called Mogen.

“I said, ‘Everyone needs to relax, because if something happened to Kaylee last night, Maddie would have called me,’” Goncalves said in the interview.

Shortly after, Goncalves said someone from the Sheriff’s Office had knocked on the door to tell the family the news of their daughter and Mogen’s death.

Meanwhile, it was a normal Sunday for many classmates and friends of the victims at the University of Idaho.

Martha, a sophomore at the University of Idaho and a friend of Kernodle and Chapin, said she met with classmates for a group project at noon on Nov. 13. The group was meeting at the Sigma Chi house where she, Kernodle and Chapin had been the night before at a party. The group of students was waiting on one person — Hunter Chapin, Ethan Chapin’s brother.

“We called him, and we said, ‘Hey, are you coming?’” she said in an interview. “And he said, ‘No, I think Ethan’s dead.”

Martha proceeded to text Kernodle, but was later told that she had also died.

“We didn’t know if it was a carbon monoxide thing, we didn’t know, and so we all just basically stood in a big, quiet circle and watched all the beginning stuff happen,” she said in the episode.

Students at the University of Idaho then received a Vandal Alert text, informing students that the Moscow Police Department was investigating a homicide on King Road.

RELATED | Key takeaways from court documents in case against Bryan Kohberger and some questions that remain

FANTASIES AND CONTROL: FORENSIC EXPERTS OFFER INSIGHT ABOUT SUSPECT

Bryan Kohberger, 28, was arrested two weeks ago in his home in Pennsylvania on suspicion of four counts of first-degree murder. His next court date is scheduled on June 26.

With a suspect in custody, there is still one question authorities have not yet solved: Why these four students?

Jon Matthias, a forensic psychologist and host of the “Hidden True Crime” podcast, offered his insight about the suspect’s intentions in the “Dateline” episode.

“I think this is someone who had a lot of fantasies of revenge, and a lot of violent and aggressive impulses over the years that have been weighing heavily on him and created a lot of anxiety and stress,” Matthias said in an interview. “I see this as being kind of a release for him.”

Moscow Police previously said that there were no signs of sexual assault among the victims, but that does not mean there weren’t any fantasies, Matthias said.

“The murderer needed to get in and out quickly, so if there were fantasies about sexual assault, he probably realized he wouldn’t be able to pull that off with so many people in the house,” he said.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, detectives believe the homicides occurred between 4 a.m. and 4:25 am.

Other forensic experts talked about the suspect’s choice of weapon. Greg Rodgers, a retired FBI agent and university professor, told NBC in an interview that the suspect intentionally chose a combat knife to instill fear upon the victims.

RELATED | WSU students: Kohberger spoke up in class — except when Moscow killings were the topic

KA BAR knife Rich Bowen Flickr
A KA-BAR knife. Rich Bowen via Flickr

“He could have easily acquired a handgun if he wanted one,” Rodgers said. “He could have acquired it legally or illegally. He chose a knife on purpose… to really scare the victims and get control.”

Rodgers said the suspect was well-prepared on what to say to the victims during the attack, referring to one of the surviving roommates, Dylan Mortensen, and her testimony in the affidavit of probable cause. She told police she heard someone say “It’s OK, I’m going to help you.”

“If the one roommate’s statements are accurate about what she heard the male saying to one of her roommates, he was well-rehearsed,” Rodgers said. “He’d thinking about this for a long time… He’s well versed in the psychological aspect of how people think and behave during a crime. He’s trying to calm them down, and doesn’t want them to scream or alert their roommates.”

Kohberger, a Ph.D. candidate and teaching assistant at Washington State University, has an extensive background in criminology.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, detectives located a knife sheath in the bedroom where Goncalves and Mogen were found. Rodgers said leaving the sheath behind was a “huge mistake” for the suspect.

“I think he became obsessed with one of these victims,” Rodgers said. “It could be just as simple that she might have served him in one of the restaurants they worked at. He might’ve just seen her. He may have spoken to one of them and done something awkward and asked for a number and been rejected and got obsessed.”

RELATED | Bryan Kohberger, accused of killing four U of I students, hears murder charges read in court

‘BULLIED,’ ‘AWKWARD’: FORMER CLASSMATES, STUDENTS DESCRIBE KOHBERGER

As news spread across the country about Kohberger’s arrest, former high school classmate Casey Arntz took her shock to social media, revealing she met Kohberger on their school bus in eastern Pennsylvania.

Arntz told “Dateline” and “20/20” journalists that Kohberger was overweight in school, and she believed girls used to bully him.

Arntz stayed in touch with Kohberger after high school, and later learned he had gone to rehabilitation treatment for a heroin addition in 2013. The next time she saw Kohberger was in 2017 at a wedding where she said he had lost a significant amount of weight and did not seem comfortable in a social setting.

A former undergraduate classmate from DeSales University, Madison, also told NBC that she was shocked to see Kohberger had lost so much weight in his mugshot. She described Kohberger as someone who would overexplain topics in class.

Four Dead University of Idaho
Bryan Kohberger, right, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022, appears at a hearing in Latah County District Court, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Moscow, Idaho. | Ted S. Warren, Associated Press via Idaho Statesman

“It was always like, ‘Oh Bryan’s answering this question,’ she said. “This is going to take the entire class.”

The Statesman previously reported that Kohberger received a bachelor’s degree in 2020 and a master’s degree in criminal justice in May 2022 from DeSales University. In November, Kohberger was pursuing a Ph.D. in the criminal justice and criminology department at Washington State University while also working as a teaching assistant.

In the “Dateline” and “20/20” episodes, one of Kohberger’s students described him as awkward and quiet.

Hayden Stinchfield, a junior at WSU, told “Dateline” and “20/20” journalists that Kohberger was unnapproachable as a teaching assistant.

“He got out before we did, probably because he had to be somewhere, but also because he had no reason to stick around because no one was going to go up and talk to him,” he said in an interview.

Stinchfield expressed frustration at how harshly Kohberger graded assignments. “You’re not telling us we did it wrong,” Stinchfield said about Kohberger’s feedback on assignments.

“You’re telling us how you would have done it at your Ph.D. level, and then you’re taking our points for it.”

That pattern of harshly grading assignments suddenly changed in the last few weeks of the fall semester, Stinchfield said, when Kohberger began giving everyone full points and stopped leaving notes.

“Looking back, it lines up pretty well with Nov. 13,” he said.

SUBMIT A CORRECTION
Share This