The Idaho murder case grows hazy, but patience is key

It’s been more than 50 days since four University of Idaho students were found fatally stabbed at home. Two of the victims, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle, were both in their 20s; the other two, Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, were both 21 years old. For weeks, pieces of information appeared piecemeal; the two victims went to a bar and then to a food truck before dying. Investigators said they believed the attack was targeted, but were unable to say whether “the residence was targeted or its occupants.”

The audience was scratching their heads for weeks. Reddit threads popped up. On December 29, police in Moscow, Idaho, said they were still working on “more than 9,025 email tips, 4,575 phone tips” and “6,050 digital media reports” and that they had conducted “more than 300 interviews.”

However, the next day there was an explosive update on the case: investigators announced that they had arrested the suspect, Bryan Christopher Kohberger, in Pennsylvania on a murder warrant. Kohberger, 28, is a graduate of Washington State University, near the Washington-Idaho state line. The case has been making its way through the legal system for days after his arrest. As of December 31, Kohberger was “held without bail in Pennsylvania” and planned to waive an extradition hearing to Idaho, where he would also be held without bail, The Associated Press reports.

Kohberger’s attorney, chief public defender Jason LaBar, said in a statement: “Mr. Kohberger has been charged with very serious crimes, but the U.S. justice system has veiled him with a veil of innocence. He should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise – not tried in a court of public opinion.”

Meanwhile, police are scrambling to gather as much information as they can about the man they described as the prime suspect. Investigators opened a hotline and told the AP they received “400 calls in the first hour after the press conference.” [during which they announced the arrest]who is great.” They want to find out “who he is, what his story is, how we came to this event, why this event happened,” Moscow police captain Anthony Dahlinger told the news agency.

Some reported elements of Kohberger’s life have been filtered into the news. Kohberger was preparing for a doctorate in criminology. He seemed “super awkward” and like he was “always looking for a way to fit in,” said a former AP classmate. About seven months ago, he apparently shared a survey on Reddit in an effort to ask people who have committed crimes about their “thoughts and feelings throughout the experience.”

In the aftermath of a shocking, brutal crime, the hunger for answers is inevitable and understandable. It’s tempting to read every reported piece of information about Kohberger as if it came from tea leaves. But there’s so much we don’t know and even less we understand. Authorities did not discuss a possible motive. As I write these words, the prime suspect has yet to appear in court. That doesn’t mean the answers won’t come – they might as well, especially if the case goes to court. And this is not an indictment of the information that has been reported so far. Of course, people want to know everything about this case. Of course, journalists are chasing every lead and talking to anyone who might have insight into the case.

But as I read through the case, I have to remind myself to watch out for tunnel vision. I’m thinking of all the criminology students who have No end up as suspects in a murder investigation. I think of all the people who have documented their curiosity about crime without ever being charged with it. I think about how hindsight affects our judgment and can cause us to ascribe meaning to things that just a moment ago seemed random.

And most of all, I think back to the four victims – Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle, Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves. Ethan, the triplet, spent his last day with his siblings, his mother told The Associated Press after his death. During her high school graduation, Xana Kernodle “decorated her mortarboard with cut-out flowers and butterflies and the words ‘For a Life I Will Change’.” Kaylee Goncalves “was outgoing, quirky, infectious, and a little goofy,” according to her obituary, and “was a hard worker, always had a full-time job on top of her studies, even in high school.” According to her own obituary, Madison Mogen “was known for her ability to make others laugh with her offbeat and hilarious sense of humor.”

These are the facts I’m sticking to and I hope they don’t get overshadowed by the recent wave of headlines.

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