WSU students: Kohberger spoke up in class — except when Moscow killings were the topicPublished at
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – Graduate school peers of Bryan Kohberger recall him as actively engaged in their Washington State University criminal justice and criminology program — someone who sought connections while also sharing little about his past in his first semester as a doctoral student.
Kohberger — the man charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the killing of four University of Idaho students — presented a social aptitude with colleagues, making casual conversation between classes, two master’s students who shared several first-year courses with him told the Idaho Statesman.
That lined up with Kohberger’s demeanor at the program’s orientation last fall, when he was one of the first people to introduce himself to others in their group of 13 incoming students, one of his classmates said.
“He seemed gregarious and outgoing, that was really the only impression that I got,” Ben Roberts, a criminal justice graduate student, said in a phone interview with the Statesman. “He was making the rounds. He definitely seemed a little more eager than some of the others that were present to go around and introduce himself.”
During class, Kohberger, 28, appeared academic minded and didn’t shy away from speaking up, including challenging his classmates, said Roberts, and another master’s degree student who the Statesman granted anonymity to answer emailed questions.
Kohberger’s enthusiasm for his area of study — understanding the criminal mind — was regularly on display, they said.
“Bryan only talked about his interest in forensic psychology,” the master’s student told the Statesman. “He was an incredibly strong student and talked during class every time.”
“He sat front and center, and was not hiding or tucking back in the back,” Roberts added. “He was right there in the middle of it.”
As a result, Kohberger’s non-participation in a lengthy conversation about the Moscow homicides stands out in retrospect, said the master’s student. The person said they had four classes with the man now sitting in the Latah County Jail, including a courts and legal process class where the killings were discussed before the semester ended the week of Dec. 12.
“He was completely silent,” Kohberger’s classmate said.
Kohberger, who faces a felony burglary charge in addition to the murder counts, is accused in the Nov. 13 stabbing deaths of 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 three women lived together in an off-campus rental house, while Chapin was staying over for the night with Kernodle, his girlfriend.
Police began looking at Kohberger as a suspect as early as Nov. 29, according to the 19-page probable cause affidavit unsealed Thursday. Law enforcement arrested Kohberger at his family’s home in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 30 while he visited them over the holiday break from school. He waived extradition last Tuesday; was flown to Pullman and driven to Moscow to jail on Wednesday; and made his first Idaho court appearance on Thursday.
“I’m shocked,” the WSU master’s student told the Statesman. “I can’t believe this person was around me after they allegedly committed such a horrible crime.”
WSU STUDENT: ‘THIS IS SOMETHING THAT AFFECTS PEOPLE’
Kohberger was one of 34 students in Washington State’s criminal justice and criminology graduate program. The Statesman obtained the information in a review of the program’s website that identified each of the students, before the university quickly took it down after the Moscow Police Department announced Kohberger’s arrest.
“We removed the webpage containing the listing and contact information for graduate students in the CJC department,” the link read Friday, citing privacy protections and directing all media inquiries to a school spokesperson. “We stand in sympathy with the families of the victims of this horrible crime and remain dedicated to the pursuit of justice.”
The website previously showed the program comprised 24 Ph.D. students, including Kohberger, and 10 students pursuing their master’s degrees. Prior attempts by the Statesman to reach members of the program did not receive a response, beyond the two master’s students who agreed to interviews.
Kohberger also was listed as an assistant instructor for three undergraduate criminal justice courses led by professor John Snyder, the department’s criminal justice club adviser and global director. The university has since removed his name online in that teaching assistant role, too.
Snyder declined to comment when reached on his cellphone by the Statesman the day of Kohberger’s arrest. The department’s chair, graduate program director and three of Kohberger’s other WSU course instructors also declined Statesman requests for comment through the university spokesperson.
Roberts, one of only four men in the graduate program outside of Kohberger, agreed to a few interviews, including with the Statesman.
“It’s a story that’s affected people, so I don’t know if I kind of want to satiate curiosity, but do that by offering something so people don’t speculate as much,” he said.
In a handful of conversations outside of the classroom with Kohberger, Roberts said that the two talked a little about music and sports, and that Kohberger at one point mentioned he liked to hike. The discussions were just “pretty typical icebreaker” chats between new colleagues, Roberts said, including how Pullman was much different from the places each of them grew up.
In class, Kohberger mostly came off as professional, Roberts said, although he said he was put off when Kohberger began to consistently show himself to be more forceful and condescending with women during seminar discussions.
“It’s hard to see a pattern emerging while you’re in the classroom, but he would tend to push back when a female was talking, more than a male talking,” Roberts said. “He was more keen on asking probing questions and things like that.”
The other master’s student said Kohberger “talked down to LGBTQ+ individuals, those who are in a marginalized community, those who were disabled, and women.” Kohberger also declared himself someone who “believed in ‘traditional marriage,’“ his classmate said.
In another incident, Kohberger’s classmate said, a colleague hung a pride ally flag on the door of their office, and Kohberger became noticeably upset.
Kohberger didn’t say much about his career goals, each student said, or talk about his master’s degree in criminal justice from DeSales University, not far from where he grew up in eastern Pennsylvania.
While at DeSales, located just southeast of Allentown, Kohberger studied under well-known forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, who for one of her books collaborated with serial murderer Dennis Rader, known more widely as the BTK Killer.
Ramsland did not respond to requests for comment from the Statesman, but confirmed to LehighValleyNews.com that Kohberger was a former student. She declined further comment.
“He rarely talked about his past academic history and academic program,” the master’s student said. “I had no idea Bryan had studied under famous forensic psychologists.”
After the Nov. 13 knife attacks that left four undergraduates dead about 9 miles east of Pullman in Moscow, neither student recalled Kohberger with any injuries or behaving in any way out of the ordinary, they said. The master’s student who spoke anonymously said they had a class with Kohberger on Nov. 15 and don’t remember anything that stood out.
Once, late in the semester — Roberts thinks it was before the Thanksgiving break — Kohberger mentioned to Roberts that he hadn’t slept much the night before.
“I do remember it wasn’t the week before or week after the homicides, because I think that would have raised an alarm bell in my head,” Roberts said. “I believe it was right when we had some pretty heavy assignments, and I don’t think any of us were getting enough sleep.”
Police said Kohberger made at least a dozen visits to the area near the Moscow rental house where the victims were killed, based on cellphone site location data obtained from AT&T in a search warrant, according to the probable cause affidavit.
“All of these occasions, except for one, occurred in the late evening or early morning hours of their respective days,” the document penned by Moscow Police Cpl. Brett Payne read.
For Roberts, the allegations against and arrest of Kohberger remains stunning, and he continues to feel a sense of unease, he said.
Much has been thrown into disarray, Roberts said, as the WSU department built around educating students why people commit horrific crimes is forced to confront the fact that one of its own now stands accused of perpetrating such an incident.
“The stories you’re reading in the paper, the cases you’re reviewing, the studies you’re doing, it can become easy to forget that they’re connected to real people, and it’s the real world and real consequences,” Roberts said. “People lose people, and find their kid’s bed empty. There’s a real heaviness looking at that and realizing and remembering, this is not just some sterile academic subject. This is something that affects people.”