A new and troubling way of life has plagued the small college town of Moscow, Idaho, in the days since four college students were murdered near their campus.
Police presence has multiplied, students have fled in droves and community members are wracked with fear and concern as the case remains unsolved.
The city of around 26,000 hadn’t recorded a single murder since 2015 before it was turned upside down. Four University of Idaho students – Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21 – were found stabbed to death on the second and third floors of their shared off-campus home, according to authorities.
There were plenty of vacancies in the university’s normally crowded parking lots after many students decided to leave the area early before their fall break began. Many left because it was “emotionally difficult” to remain on campus, according to Tanner McClain, president of the University of Idaho’s Associated Students, the school’s student government.
“The whole situation is just terrifying to begin with,” McClain told CNN. “I’m on the other side of the state right now and I’m still scared of the overall situation.”
Nearly a week after the killings shook Moscow’s sense of security, the community remains on edge as they wait for police to release more details about the students’ deaths, find the weapon used to carry out the heinous attacks, and eventually identify one and catch suspect.
Some students, like Emma Vigil, a senior, said “there are no plans” to return to campus until police take a suspect into custody.
“I don’t know how anyone is supposed to feel safe or go back. All my friends left,” Vigil, who lives just meters from the house where the four students were killed, told CNN this week.
“I don’t know how I could be safe if they didn’t catch the person who did it,” Vigil added.
The University of Idaho is offering resources to staff and students to help them cope, including drop-in counseling, therapy dog assistance and additional on-campus security officers to escort students across campus, it said in a statement.
“We need to remain flexible this week and give our students and colleagues space to process these unprecedented events in their own way. Students, you are encouraged to do what is right for you. Whether you go home early or stay in class, you have our support,” University President Scott Green said in a statement Thursday.
Many professors canceled classes over the past week, including Zachary Turpin, assistant professor of American literature, who wrote on Twitter he “cannot in good conscience teach” until police release more information or identify a suspect in the murders.
Other schools near the university campus have also increased security after the attacks. The Moscow School District, which serves about 2,200 students, said Idaho state police increased a presence near the city’s public schools Thursday and Friday to assist local police with the murder investigation.
Superintendent Greg Bailey told CNN the loss “affected everyone in the community,” which has rarely, if ever, experienced such a level of collective tragedy.
Bailey said the school district already has security measures in place with automatically locked doors and cameras. Counselors and teachers actively monitor their elementary, middle, and high school students to see if they are experiencing stress.
“I think everyone’s just a little scared of that scenario because they haven’t identified the culprit,” Bailey said, “people are on the alert, and it’s obviously the discussion.”
“We just have to sit back and wait for more information to become available, but the consensus is that they cannot get all the information [police] may have a better chance of catching the person.”
The atmosphere on campus has “completely changed” since the tragedy, said McClain, a 21-year-old junior who left town on Tuesday to stay with his sister in the Boise area. The campus was inundated with police officers, security guards and reporters this week, McClain said.
“I was there yesterday and have never seen it [the] Campus, the atmosphere, so dark before,” McClain said Tuesday. “The campus is usually very lively, very fun, very bright. There’s always something going on, there’s always activities, there’s always events going on.”
McClain said he intends to return to campus out of his own sense of responsibility as student body president to finish the semester to bring the community together during this time.
“It’s very sad to see, you know, how this tragedy has really devastated our small local community,” he said.
The four victims were active in the Greek community, which linked them to many members of fraternities and sororities at the school.
Between long pauses and with an emotional heaviness in his voice, McClain described in an interview with CNN how the group of four friends touched the lives of “countless students” and said he noticed that a significant number of students who are part of the Greek Lives are fled from campus this week.
“Everyone in Greek life in Moscow knows each other in one way or another, which is why the loss… just devastated that community,” McClain said.
Community unease was compounded after Moscow police, who initially said there was no threat to the public and described the killings as a “targeted assault,” retracted their stance on Wednesday.
“We cannot say that there is no threat to the community,” Moscow Police Department chief James Fry said during Wednesday’s news conference. “And as we’ve said before, please stay alert, report suspicious activity and be aware of your surroundings at all times.”
Jim Chapin, Ethan Chapin’s father, said in a statement this week that the lack of information from the university and local police “only fuels false rumors and innuendos in the press and on social media,” adding, “The Silence only aggravates our family’s agony after our son’s murder.”
The press conference made some students even more nervous, including Amanda Bauer, a graduate student.
In an interview with CNN affiliate KLEW, Bauer said it was “nerve-wracking to hear them say we’re not quite sure anymore, since their first comment at the beginning was that we were sure. So it was definitely a change that made a lot of my friends and I uncomfortable.”
Bauer told KLEW that she must remain on campus until Monday, when her flight is scheduled to depart, or she would have left earlier.
“My home is in California, so my flight isn’t until Monday. But I wish I could go home,” Bauer told KLEW.
Other students told CNN that because no perpetrator was caught, the sense of fear on campus was heightened.
“Everyone just went home because they’re scared. … It’s definitely unsettled on campus right now,” student Nathan Tinno told CNN.
Another student, Ava Driftmeyer, who lives near where the students were killed, described the emotional and mental toll the tragedy has taken on students who feel “helpless” due to a lack of information.
She told CNN police she had conducted the investigation “poorly” and found the community was not equipped to deal with this tragedy.
Driftmeyer said she has to stay in the area because of her job and estimates that more than half of the students have dropped out of school.
“I just don’t even think it’s that far yet. … Do you know how crazy that is? And the fact that there are no answers is the worst feeling ever,” she said.
Other students, like Chad Huscrost, chose to stay on campus out of respect for the victims and as a show of support for his community, he told CNN affiliate KLEW.
“You’re not alone right now,” Huscrost told KLEW.
“There’s a community and I think we have to stand up and know that we can overcome fear,” he added.