Police resources shift as investigation into U of I killings extends to fourth week

As law enforcement resources rotate nearing four weeks since four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death, the investigation remains firmly in the hands of the Moscow Police Department.

Since Nov. 13, the day of the quadruple homicide, Moscow’s department — presently with 31 sworn officers — has shifted its priorities. Of them, 29 members of various ranks, including four detectives and 24 patrol officers — plus five of its 10 support staff — were immediately committed to the case.

That same afternoon, a call was quickly made to the Idaho State Police and FBI to request assistance. Soon, 44 FBI investigators and agents were assigned, as were about 36 ISP members, plus its mobile crime scene team and forensics services.

“I believe that the third phone call was to the state police activating them for aid,” Moscow Police Capt. Anthony Dahlinger told the Idaho Statesman in an interview. “Our agencies throughout the state, we work really well together.”

Late last week, as the investigation transitioned into a more analytic phase of the case and patrol officers returned to more regular duties, law enforcement resources were shuffled. Today, the Moscow police force’s assigned resources entail six detectives with the five support staffers, backed by 48 FBI agents in Moscow and across the U.S., and at least 30 ISP members, plus the forensics unit.

The quadruple homicide claimed the lives of U of I seniors Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum, and Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene; junior Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls; and freshman Ethan Chapin, 20, of Mount Vernon, Washington. Police found their bodies inside a home in the 1100 block of King Road, just off the university campus, right before noon on Nov. 13.

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The recent shuffle of resources represents a 25% scale-down of overall law enforcement personnel assigned to the investigation, as it proceeds toward a more specialized focus, according to a news release. “Assigned resources vary based on the current needs of the investigation,” the Moscow Police Department said.

Moscow patrol officers were initially included in the investigation, and many on-duty officers assisted with its more minor elements, such as securing the home, Aaron Snell, an ISP spokesperson, told the Statesman. A private firm is now tasked with that duty, allowing the local police department’s patrol officers to return to normal duty, he said.

But the move also marks the first time since the killings that federal investigators outnumber those of the local and state police forces.

However, that shouldn’t be taken as the case shifting into federal hands. Just the opposite, said Snell, who was himself temporarily recruited to help with communications for the investigation.

“One hundred percent, this is definitely Moscow Police Department’s investigation, with the chief of police heading it up, all of the briefings as team lead, those type of things,” Snell said in a phone interview. “Truly it’s state and federal resources supplementing with various specialties, because of the size of the investigation, which is a large investigation — four murders — and just a lot of resources. As needed, he asked and the agencies are able to provide that.”

Moscow Police Chief James Fry, right, speaks at a news conference held in Moscow last month about progress in the investigation into the Nov. 13 killing of four University of Idaho students. To his left is Moscow Police Capt. Roger Lanier.
Moscow Police Chief James Fry, right, speaks at a news conference held in Moscow last month about progress in the investigation into the Nov. 13 killing of four University of Idaho students. To his left is Moscow Police Capt. Roger Lanier.

Moscow Police Chief James Fry, a 27-year veteran of the department, including the last six-plus years as its chief, has continued to stress that he and his department will review every lead and tip, and leave no stone unturned in the investigation. The department and other law enforcement remain committed to finding the killer and bringing them to justice, he has repeatedly said.

“I’m a dad, with daughters, and that’s tough. We’re human,” Fry told Fox News in a Tuesday interview, choking up. “We don’t go to these and just turn it off. It affects us. But we have a job to do and we’re going to continue to do that job. We’re going to continue to push forward.”