Families of Idaho murder victims beg for calm as conspiracists hijack case: ‘All the noise is really harming’

More than a week after University of Idaho students Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle, Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen were brutally murdered, their loved ones are trying to grieve - but rampant rumours are getting in the way. Sheila Flynn reports from Idaho

Tuesday 22 November 2022 18:53 GMT
(Jazzmin Kernodle/AP/Instagram/Idaho Statesman)

Families of the Idaho murder victims, separated by hundreds of miles but united in sorrow, have begun the process of publicly grieving.

The first of four services was held on Monday in the Washington State hometown of 20-year-old Ethan Chapin, the sole male victim of the quadruple homicide more than a week earlier near the University of Idaho. He was found brutally stabbed along with his girlfriend, Xana Kernodle, 20, and her roommates Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Madison Mogen, 21. All four were UI students and their killer is still at large.

Ethan’s memorial was closed to the media. As hundreds gathered to pay their respects, the three other victims’ families were also grieving six hours away in Idaho – and pleading for an end to wild speculation about the case that has both amplified their pain and complicated investigations.

“All the noise out there is really harming the families,” a friend of Kristi and Steve Goncalves, Kaylee’s parents, told The Independent. “And it’s taking the police down trails that are not real and taking them away from the ones that are.”

She was speaking from outside her home in Coeur d’Alene, a 90-minute drive north from the scene of the crime in the university town of Moscow. Kaylee and Madison were best friends and grew up around here.

The driveways of both their family homes on Monday were filled with cars, but polite, somber men who answered the door at each location said the girls’ parents were declining to talk.

They’ve already pleaded for others to stop spreading rumours, which have been proliferating on the ground and on the internet since the 13 November slayings. In Coeur d’Alene on Monday, people were still repeating information to The Independent on that had been debunked days earlier.

Police, meanwhile, were issuing similar pleas on Monday, updating their social media posts repeatedly to address specific inaccuracies circulating. They shot down reports that the skinning of a nearby pet dog was related to the murders; then they said a report of a man waiting in a woman’s car was “unfounded.”

“Rumors and speculation continue circulating about the ongoing investigation,” Moscow Police Department had posted a day earlier. “MPD cautions the public not to rely on rumors and remains committed to keeping the public informed. We urge reliance on official channels for accurate information.”

But authorities’ handling of the case – and their own contradictory information – have only fueled the conspiracies and speculation. When the crime was first reported, the Moscow mayor called it a “crime of passion;” that phrase has never been mentioned again. He and police initially said there was no danger to the public; days later, cops backtracked and urged the public to remain vigilant.

Authorities still wont release the 911 call and were cagey for a full week about the details surrounding it. In the investigation’s second week – despite more than 650 tips, 90 interviews and a 130-strong law enforcement team – police still have not announced any suspects.

Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves pictured together before their murders (Instagram)
Four Dead University of Idaho (Jazzmin Kernodle)

“Right now, I’m mad,” Kaylee’s sibling, Alivea, posted Monday on Facebook, in a message addressed to her “baby sisters.”

“And I know you guys are too but I swear I’ll find them. So rest easy for me, I got this. Send a little sign if you can, I’m taking ALL tips lol.

“I love you today, yesterday and until my dying breath.”

Alivea’s post featured pictures of her own wedding day, when her little sister and Madison stood by her side as bridesmaids. That’s how close the girls were.

“They were outgoing, friendly and joined at the hip from day one,” the girls’ high school English teacher, Donna Staub, told the Spokesman-Review. “Kaylee and Madison (even 5 years later, I remember the two of them as a hyphenated phrase: Kaylee-and-madison), always had a sunny attitude, a joy of life that was infectious.”

She explained how the girls told her “early on their goal was to go to the University of Idaho together and join a sorority.

“I believe that they’re both smiling down on their loved ones together, and I hope there is at least the smallest of comfort in that for their families at this terrible time.”

The girls followed through on their plans, attending UI together, where Madison was a marketing major. Kaylee, a general studies major, was set to graduate early next month and planned to move to Austin, where she’d been offered an internship, a friend who intended to move with her told the New York Times.

Kaylee was “a bright light, she was a sweet girl, and she had a huge future ahead of her,” a friend who’s known the Goncalves family for years told The Independent.

“Every one of Kristi and Steve’s children ... have great demeanor,” she added. “They have respect, they’re loyal ... very, very strong people. So this is most definitely very hard. And Kaylee was a beautiful person just inside and out. She really was.”

Her best friend, similarly, “exuded love,” Madison’s aunt told the Spokesman.

“She was kind, gentle, and oh so fun,” Katie Blackshear wrote in a statement on behalf of the family. “Maddie was smart and motivated. She often worked multiple jobs, did extremely well in school and somehow always prioritized time with her friends and family first.

“Maddie was so sweet with little kids and adored her cousins. She never met an animal she didn’t love ... She once sent me a text that said she was so glad to have been born into our family and, well, the feeling was mutual. We will all have a Maddie-shaped hole in our hearts and can only hope it radiates a fraction of the love and joy Maddie always did.”

Police are pictured outside the home where the stabbings occurred (AP)

Madison and Kaylee shared a house on King Road, two blocks from the edge of the UI campus, along with three other girls, including fellow victim Xana Kernodle – who’d grown up between Arizona and Post Falls, less than ten miles from Coeur d’Alene.

Xana’s father previously shared his heartbreak with The Independent, calling the gruesome case his “worse nightmare”.

“How can you protect some kid? You keep them at home and don’t let him go to college? They’re not gonna stay at home like that,” he said on 18 November. “So, it’s really mind-boggling. It’s just completely unthinkable and it’s the worst nightmare.”

A talented competitive gymnast, Xana “was always the life of the party and was a dancing queen,” her sister, Jazzmin, wrote in a heartbroken Instagram post.

She said the 20-year-old was her “first friend, my sister, and my other half.

“Having the privilege to see my baby sister grow into someone so beautiful was one of the best gifts ...She made me a better person and I was so happy seeing the person she was becoming,” she posted in the days after the murders. “She was so strong and worked hard for what she wanted ... Xana was the type of person that always lit up a room. She was someone that was always worth recording because who knew what funny thing she was going to say or do next.”

Jazzmin wrote that friends of the marketing major had given her some recent assignments her younger sister had written for English class.

“It is truly so beautiful, and has brought me a lot of comfort,” Jazzmin posted on Instagram. “In her most recent short essay, she wrote about the song ‘Blasé by Louis the child. She said it was an amazing experience seeing it live in concert with her friends. I know this song has so much meaning to her, and now so many others. It is a song I will imagine her dancing o each time I hear it.

The last couple sentences she wrote in her short essay on 7 November said, “It was amazing getting to experience one of my favorite songs with some of my best friends while they were all enjoying life. That is one of the most important things you can do in life, enjoy the ride, not the destination.”

Xana was giddily happy with her boyfriend Ethan, her sister said; the couple had been dating since the spring.

“Ethan and Xana were so happy together and it made me so happy seeing the way he made her feel,” Jazzmin wrote. “It was truly indescribable.”

Xana Kernodle is pictured with her father

On Monday, the same day as Ethan’s memorial in Mount Vernon, Washington, Jazzmin shared details of another service for the four victims scheduled for 3 December in Post Falls.

While reporters were not allowed into the memorial for Ethan, who was a triplet, it was open to the public and hundreds filed into McIntyre Hall at Skagit Valley College.

As they did so, Ethan’s mother, Stacy, read a statement to reporters, standing with her husband, Jim, and their children, Maizie and Hunter.

“Today, we’re here to honour the life and legacy of our son and brother, Ethan Chapin, one of the most incredible ppl you will ever know,” she said, thanking neighbours as well as ‘extended family and friends who serve as beacons of strength and remain by our side throughout every moment; the Moscow Police Department, who now carry the burden very day, not only for us, but for all of the impacted families; and, the many strangers across the country. Your outreach and kind words are profoundly touching."

"Please know we now consider all of you friends," she said. "And lastly, we thank the media for keeping this story top of mind."

Ethan, his brother and sister all attended high school in Washington State and took on jobs at an Idaho resort when school was shut down during the pandemic, according to his obituary. All three then attended UI in Moscow, where Ethan was a freshman majoring in recreation, sport and tourism management. Both he and his brother were members of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

Friends and family line up to enter the memorial service for Ethan Chapin (AP)

Ethan “lived his best life” at UI, his obituary continued. “He loved the social life, intramurals and tolerated the academics. He also continued to play sports.

“We were all very fortunate to play golf with him all this last summer. If he wasn’t on the golf course or working, you could usually find him surfing, playing sand volleyball or pickle ball.“Ethan loved life. He laughed continuously. He smiled when he woke up and was still smiling when he went to bed. He was kind to all and a friend to all. May we all try to make the earth a better place ... and may we all live like Ethan.”

The Chapins and relatives of the other victims, through their shock and grief, have begged people to stop fuelling countless rumours running wild. Entire speculation threads have popped up on various forums, with fact and fiction often getting blurred, particularly as authorities remain either tight-lipped or contradictory when it comes to releasing details about the murder investigation.

“The things that are being said are 100 per cent not true,” Ms Chapin told King5 in the days before her son’s memorial.

“There is not drugs involved, there is not some weird love triangle. He had stayed the night at his girlfriend’s house, who was one of five girls who lived in the home.”

The Goncalves’ friend on Monday told The Independent the family was appealing for people to stop compounding the already frustrating and devastating situation by continuing to spread wrong details.

“People need to have some empathy,” shesaid Monday. “They need to really care about what these families are going through and respect their privacy, their boundaries.”

She said her “heart breaks for them ... it’s important that the word get out” that speculation, however well intentioned, seems to only be making things worse.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in