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Moscow police chief defends investigation as unverified video footage surfaces

Dec. 21, 2022 Updated Wed., Dec. 21, 2022 at 7:11 p.m.

Moscow police Chief James Fry speaking at a recent news conference.  (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)
Moscow police Chief James Fry speaking at a recent news conference. (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Kevin Fixler Idaho Statesman

Moscow Police Chief James Fry on Tuesday defended his command of the investigation into the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students, pushing back against growing questions as the homicide case nears six weeks old – and is still without a suspect.

“What I want people to know is this is a Moscow Police Department investigation,” Fry said in a Tuesday video update on the case. “We’re utilizing the resources of the FBI and (Idaho) State Police, but we pick the investigators. My command team oversees this. We have 94 years of experience between us, and we’re going to continue to work this case, we’re going to continue to work it to the completion.”

As of Monday, federal agents assigned to the investigation, based in Moscow – in addition to Salt Lake City and Virginia – outnumbered the combined city and state resources by roughly 20 law enforcement personnel. The individual agency staffing numbers were left off Tuesday’s daily public update.

Fry is a 27-year veteran of the Moscow department, including the past six-plus as its chief, and he reaffirmed his leadership as police work to solve the Nov. 13 quadruple homicide.

“Be assured that this investigation is the Moscow Police Department’s, and I am the chief and we’re going to follow through on this,” Fry said. “And just know that from the very beginning of this, we’ve been a unified group, and we make decisions together. But those, ultimately, I stand behind in the end.”

Amid shifting resources per investigation needs, the local police department listed five detectives from its 31-member force, plus five of its 10 support staff, involved in the case as of Monday. Idaho State Police was lending another 13 investigators, 15 uniformed troopers to help with patrols, and a forensics team and communications staffer in Moscow.

The FBI listed 60 investigators nationwide, including several on the ground locally, plus a specialized, two-member behavioral analysis investigator unit.

Investigators have yet to find a weapon used in the killings, which they believe is a large, fixed-blade knife, or publicly released a motive in what they continue to label a “targeted attack” on the four students at a home in the 1100 block of King Road.

The shocking case – the city’s first homicide in seven years – has captivated the nation, spawning true crime internet forums that scrutinize each new clue and possible theory.

The 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 three women lived in the rental house with two other female roommates who police said went unharmed and were not involved in the crime.

Chapin, Kernodle’s boyfriend, was staying over for the night.

Police won’t verify video

Also Tuesday, Moscow police confirmed that they are familiar with video footage released by members of the public over the weekend that appears to show Mogen and Goncalves as they walked downtown with a male companion on the night of their deaths. Fox News was first to report on the new footage, which the Idaho Statesman independently obtained Monday.

The 18-second clip is thought to be captured on a downtown business Nest surveillance camera. It includes two women wearing clothing that match the outfits Mogen and Goncalves wore that night – as seen in a prior video that showed them as they awaited an order at the popular Grub Truck food truck parked downtown at around 1:40 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 13.

Before that, Mogen and Goncalves were at a local bar called the Corner Club from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., police said.

The same man who stood nearby at the food truck also appears to be in the new footage, walking beside the two victims, who police said made it back home by about 1:56 a.m. That male companion is not believed to be involved in the crime, police have said.

The building on Main Street in Moscow where the surveillance video was shot is owned by New Saint Andrews College, Fox News reported. Ben Merkle, president of the private Christian college, told Fox News that he gave investigators all of the footage that Moscow police requested.

There are several cameras on the building’s exterior, but Merkle said he did not release the video to the public, according to the Fox News report.

Merkle did not return a message left at his office on Tuesday. The Statesman obtained the video from Kristine Cameron and Alina Smith, creators and administrators of the “University of Idaho Murders – Case Discussion” Facebook group, though they declined to share how or where they acquired it.

The short clip with audio appears to include Goncalves asking Mogen what she told a man who was not previously known by the public to be part of the investigation. “I– I told (him) everything,’’ Mogen seems to respond, before the three leave the camera’s frame.

Moscow police so far have refused to verify the footage because it was not released through official channels.

“The video in question was not released by MPD and we cannot authenticate it for media,” Idaho State Police spokesperson Aaron Snell told the Statesman by email Tuesday.

However, police acknowledged in their daily press release that the newly referenced individual in the video is cooperating with investigators.

Goncalves’ father, Steve Goncalves, told Fox News in an interview Saturday that the family previously received the video, and believed the business reached out directly to provide it after giving it to police. The man his daughter and Mogen were discussing is not a concern for the family, he added.

“It’s just two girls having a good time talking about … their bartender, and just being girls on their way to the Grub Truck,” Steve Goncalves said. “We did the obvious due diligence and we looked into that, and it was pretty clear that this individual was not a part of the investigation as far as a suspect.”

Reached by email, Shanon Gray, attorney for the Goncalves family, confirmed to the Statesman that the family was aware of the video footage.

“We don’t suspect his name being mentioned is anything other than conversation between two friends,” Gray said.

Idaho Statesman reporter Sally Krutzig contributed to this story.

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