DNA on knife sheath links suspect to mysterious Idaho student killings, roommate saw masked man, police say in new arrest documents

Written by on January 5, 2023

A roommate in the house where four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death in November told authorities she saw a tall, masked man in black inside their home at the time of the early morning attacks, according to newly released court documents Thursday.

Police said they zeroed in on suspect Bryan Kohberger, 28, through a combination of DNA evidence left on a large knife sheath found at the scene of the attacks, trash collected from his parents’ Pennsylvania home, surveillance video, cell phone records and license-plate readers that tracked his car on a cross-country drive. The whereabouts of the knife itself are unknown, and police have said they are looking for the murder weapon.

Students Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Xana Kernodle, 20, were killed in the Nov. 13 attack in Moscow, Idaho, that stirred panic in the small town. Kohberger was a doctoral student in the criminal justice and criminology department at Washington State University in Pullman, about 10 miles away.

No motive revealed, suspect was near home 12 times before attack

Police in seeking Kohberger’s arrest left out any mention of a possible motive. But authorities noted his phone had been tracked to nearby the students’ house at least 12 times in the six months before the attack, and “all of these occasions, except for one, occurred in the late evening and early morning hours.”

Police did not indicate whether Kohberger had any other reason to be in the area at those times.

Idaho roommate saw person in black clothing, mask 

One of the roommates told law enforcement she was awoken at 4 a.m. the morning of the killings by what she thought sounded like Goncalves playing with her dog in one of the upstairs bedrooms, located on the third floor, the documents say.

The roommate then heard Goncalves say something like “there’s someone here,” according to the roommate’s statement to law enforcement in the affidavit. The roommate opened her bedroom door and saw nothing. She opened it again when she thought she heard crying from Kernodle’s room and heard a man say something like “it’s ok, I’m going to help you,” according to the affidavit.

The roommate said she opened her door a third time and saw “a figure clad in black clothing and a mask that covered the person’s mouth and nose” walking toward her, according to the affidavit. The roommate said she stood in “frozen shock” as the man walked past and out a sliding glass door, and she locked herself in her room, the documents say. 

DNA, video evidence point to suspect

Police said the roommate’s account, phone records and videos led investigators to believe the killings happened between 4 a.m. and 4:25 a.m. Authorities also noted Kernodle received a DoorDash order at the residence at 4 a.m.

Police said security-camera video from outside the home picked up distorted voices or a whimper “followed by a loud thud” at 4:17 a.m.

Other neighborhood security-camera videos played a key role in identifying the white Hyundai Elantra owned by Kohberger, police said. The car was seen on video at least four times between 3:29 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. before speeding off.

The car didn’t have a front license plate, so police were initially unable to track it.  They later used cell phone location data to track the suspect’s location, and noted his cell phone was either turned off or put into airplane mode for a time overlapping the attacks, from 2:47 a.m. to 4:48 a.m., “consistent with Kohberger attempting to conceal his location during the quadruple homicide,” the affidavit said.

On Dec. 27, investigators collected trash from the Pennsylvania home of Kohberger’s parents and determined that a man who lives there was 99.9% certain to be the father of the person who left the DNA on the knife sheath, which was emblazoned with the U.S. Marine Corps emblem, found at the scene.

According to the affidavit, Kohberger applied for an internship with the Pullman Police Department in the fall of 2022 and wrote an essay claiming he had interest in assisting rural law enforcement agencies with “how to better collect and analyze technological data in public safety operations.”

Kohberger scheduled for court appearance in Idaho

Kohberger is scheduled to make his first appearance in a courtroom Thursday morning in Moscow, Idaho, where the killings occurred.

The hearing comes a day after Kohberger was flown back to Idaho by the Pennsylvania State Police to a small airport near the Idaho state border and handed over to local authorities that evening.

Local media outlets, including NBC affiliate KHQ-TV, showed footage of Kohberger in a red jumpsuit being escorted by authorities on the ground.

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Authorities announced Friday they arrested Kohberger in his parents’ home in northeastern Pennsylvania, about 2,500 miles from where the stabbings happened.

Kohberger’s return to Idaho came after he agreed to be extradited during an initial appearance in a Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania courtroom on Tuesday.

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