Authorities in the US have arrested a suspect in the killings of four University of Idaho students who were found stabbed to death in their beds more than a month ago in a disturbing and seemingly random case that rocked the country.
The killings initially mystified law enforcement and shook the small town of Moscow, Idaho, a farming community of about 25,000 people that had not had a murder for five years. Fears of a repeat attack prompted nearly half of the University of Idaho’s over 11,000 students to leave the city and switch to online classes.
Bryan Christopher Kohberger, 28, was arrested early Friday morning (local time) by the Pennsylvania State Police at a home north of Philadelphia, authorities said. Prosecutor Bill Thompson said investigators believe Kohberger broke into the students’ home “with the intent to commit murder.”
Kohberger is being held without bond in Pennsylvania and will be held without bond in Idaho once he is returned, Thompson said, and the affidavit for four charges of first-degree murder in Idaho will remain sealed until he is returned. He is also charged with felony burglary with an extradition hearing scheduled for Tuesday, local time.
In a rather disturbing twist, it's been revealed the suspected murderer is a PhD student in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University. He is also a teaching assistant for the university’s criminal justice and criminology program, according to the university's online directory.
University police assisted Idaho law enforcement in executing search warrants at Kohberger’s home and office on campus, the university said. WSU officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Kohberger’s work as a teaching assistant.
WSU is a short drive across the state line from the University of Idaho. The two universities are partners in several academic programs, and students sometimes attend classes and seminars or work at the neighboring schools. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Kohberger: University of Idaho President Scott Green wrote in a memo to students and employees on Friday evening that the Idaho school had no record of him.
Students viciously attacked in their sleep
The Idaho students — Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin — were stabbed to death at a rental home near campus sometime in the early morning hours of November 13.
Investigators were unable to name a suspect or locate a murder weapon for weeks.
But the case appeared to break open after law enforcement asked the public for help finding a white Hyundai Elantra sedan seen near the home around the time of the killings. The Moscow Police Department made the request December 7, and by the next day had to direct tips to a special FBI call centre because so many were coming in. By mid-December, investigators were working through nearly 12,000 tips and had identified more than 22,000 vehicles matching that make and model.
“We are still looking for the weapon,” Police Chief James Fry said. “I will say that we have found an Elantra.”
Fry was emotional as he announced the arrest, calling the victims by their first names. The chief has said in the past that everyone on the force feels strongly about solving the crime, at times choking up when discussing the impact on the victims’ families and the close-knit rural community.
Autopsies showed all four were likely asleep when they were attacked. Some had defensive wounds and each was stabbed multiple times. There was no sign of sexual assault, police said.
Chief Fry said they’re still “putting all the pieces together” to determine motive.
Suspected killer was 'super awkward'
Ben Roberts, a graduate student in the criminology and criminal justice department at WSU, described Kohberger as confident and outgoing, but said it seemed like “he was always looking for a way to fit in.”
“It’s pretty out of left field,” he said of the news Friday. “I had honestly just pegged him as being super awkward.”
Roberts started the program in August — along with Kohberger, he said — and had several courses with him. He described Kohberger as wanting to appear academic.
“One thing he would always do, almost without fail, was find the most complicated way to explain something,” he said. “He had to make sure you knew that he knew it.”
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