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DNA, cellphone data helped police link WSU grad student to Idaho murders

Four University of Idaho students were found dead Sunday, Nov. 14, 2022.{ } (Angela Palermo/Idaho Statesman via AP)
Four University of Idaho students were found dead Sunday, Nov. 14, 2022. (Angela Palermo/Idaho Statesman via AP)
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The DNA of the man charged with killing four University of Idaho students in November was found on a knife sheath recovered at the crime scene. Cellphone data also showed the man was in the area of the victims’ home multiple times in the months before the attacks, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old doctoral student at Washington State University (WSU), was arrested at his parents' home in eastern Pennsylvania on Dec. 30 in connection to the Moscow, Idaho, murders.

Kohberger was extradited to Idaho Wednesday and made his first appearance in Latah County court Thursday, where he was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and felony burglary.

If convicted, Kohberger faces life imprisonment or the death penalty. He is currently being held at the Latah County jail without bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 12.

The bodies of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, of Rathdrum, Idaho; Madison Mogen, 21, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Xana Kernodle, 20, of Post Falls, Idaho; and Ethan Chapin, 20, of Conway, Washington, were found Nov. 13 at the off-campus rental home where the women lived. Kernodle and Chapin were dating, and he had been visiting the house that night.

Investigators haven't disclosed a possible motive or said whether they think Kohberger knew any of the victims.

The affidavit written by Moscow, Idaho Police Cpl. Brett Payne, breaks down the scene police encountered, and why Kohberger is accused of murdering the four students in November.

The crime scene

According to court documents, when police arrived to the off-campus housing, they found Kernodle laying on the floor of her room, "with wounds which appeared to have been caused by an edged weapon."

Chapin was also found in the second-floor room. The description of his wounds provided by the medical examiner were redacted with the exception that he had, "sharp-force injuries."

On the third floor, where Goncalves shared a wall with her roommate Mogen, both were found in a bed with stab wounds, according to the document. They were in Goncalves' room, where an investigator later said they noticed a tan leather knife sheath, "laying on the bed next to Mogen."

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According to the affidavit, the sheath had, "Ka-bar" and "USMC" with the Marine Corps eagle design stamped on it. What is described as "a single source of male DNA" was found on the button snap of a tan knife sheath found on the bed next to Mogen's body after the murders.

Investigators later closely matched the DNA on the sheath to DNA found in trash taken from Kohberger’s parents’ home in Pennsylvania, where he was arrested.

Investigators believe the murders occurred between 4 a.m. and 4:25 a.m. based on the police statements from a roommate at the home at the time of the killings, reviews of cellphone records and video of a suspect vehicle, according to court documents.

Masked man seen in the house

Court documents say a woman who lives at the off-campus home told investigators she was woken up around 4 a.m. by what sounded like Goncalves playing with her dog in a bedroom on the third floor.

A short time later, the roommate said she thought she heard Goncalves say “something to the effect of ‘there's someone here,’” according to court documents. Forensic information from Kernodle's phone shows the noise could’ve come from Kernodle’s cellphone as it indicated she was “likely awake and using the TikTok app” around 4:12 a.m.

The woman told investigators she looked out of her bedroom but didn’t see anything after hearing about someone being in the house.

Documents say the woman opened her door again after hearing what she thought was crying from Kernodle’s room. The woman told investigators she then heard a man say “something to effect of ‘it’s OK, I’m going to help you,’” according to court documents.

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Around 4:17 a.m., documents say a security camera at a home next to the residence on King Road “picked up distorted audio of what sounded like voices or a whimper followed by a loud thud.” Documents say a dog can also be heard barking “numerous times” starting at 4:17 a.m. The camera is less than 50 feet from Kernodle’s bedroom wall.

The woman told police she opened the door a third time after hearing the crying and saw a masked man "clad in black clothing" who walked past her and toward a sliding glass door.

The woman, who wasn’t harmed in the attack, said the man walked past her as she stood in “frozen shock.” The woman then went back into her room and locked the door. Mental health experts say common physiological responses to frightening or traumatic experiences include an urge to fight, an urge to flee, or an urge to freeze.

Investigators believe the suspect then left the home. The affidavit does not say what happened next at the home, or why police were not alerted for several more hours.

The housemate told police she didn’t recognize the man, but described them as being around 5’10” tall, not very muscular but athletically built with bushy eyebrows, documents say.

While processing the crime scene, documents say investigators found a “latent shoe print” that had a diamond-shaped pattern outside a roommate’s second-floor bedroom, which matches what the woman told police about the suspect's travel path in the home.

Suspect vehicle captured on video

Video collected from the area of the off-campus home on King Road captured a white sedan, later identified by the FBI as a Hyundai Elantra, driving in the area multiple times between 3:29 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. on Nov. 13.

Court documents say the vehicle didn’t have a front license plate and made an “initial three passes” past the off-campus house.

The vehicle is seen in the area a fourth time around 4:04 a.m. driving eastbound on King Road. Documents say the vehicle turned around, drove westbound on King Road and “appeared to unsuccessfully attempt to park or turn around in the road” in front of the off-campus house. The vehicle then did a three-point turn and drove eastbound down Queen Road.

The vehicle is seen leaving the area “at a high rate speed” around 4:20 a.m. The affidavit states investigators believe the vehicle “likely exited the neighborhood” at Palouse River Drive. The road eventually leads to Pullman, Washington, which is about 10 miles away from Moscow and where Kohberber was attending school at the time of the murders.

According to court documents, surveillance footage from WSU captured a white Hyundai Elantra at 2:44 a.m. traveling north on Southeast Nevada Street. The vehicle was seen on video less than 10 minutes later traveling towards State Route 270, which connects Pullman to Moscow.

The vehicle was then seen around 5:25 a.m. on five cameras in Pullman and on the WSU campus.

Vehicle linked to Kohberger

Police in Moscow asked law enforcement on Nov. 25 to be on the lookout for a white Hyundai Elantra.

On Nov. 29, court documents show a WSU police officer did a search for white Elantras registered at the university. The search results located a white 2015 Hyundai Elantra with Pennsylvania plates registered to Kohberger.

Documents say the vehicle registration information showed Kohberger lived at an apartment in Pullman less than a mile from where the last camera captured the suspect vehicle.

The affidavit states a different WSU officer on Nov. 29 located a white Elantra in a parking lot of an apartment complex that houses WSU students. The officer ran the vehicle’s plates which showed Kohberger as the owner.

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The information from Kohberger’s Washington state driver's license matched the physical description of the man the surviving roommate said she saw inside the house on King Road the night of the murders – including the suspect’s “bushy eyebrows,” according to documents.

Court documents show Kohberger was detained by a WSU police officer during a traffic stop on Oct. 14. Body camera video and the police report from the traffic stop showed Kohberger was driving a white 2015 Elantra with Pennsylvania plates.

Data from the Washington State Department of Licensing shows Kohberger registered his Elantra in Washington on Nov. 18, days after the murders took place.

Until this point, court documents say, Kohberger’s vehicle was registered in Pennsylvania, a state that does not require vehicles to have a front license plate. The white vehicle seen on video outside the off-campus house on King Road the night of the killings also didn’t have a front license plate.

Kohberger’s cellphone records

Location data from Kohberger’s cellphone showed he had traveled to the area of the victims’ residence at least a dozen times between late June and the night of the killings, authorities said.

All but one of those apparent visits to the victims’ neighborhood occurred late in the evening or early morning hours, the affidavit said. Investigators also obtained location data from the night of the killings, showing that Kohberger’s phone was near his home in Pullman until about 2:42 a.m.

Five minutes later, the phone started using cellular resources located southeast of the home, which is consistent with Kohberger traveling south, the affidavit said.

There was no other location data available from the phone until 4:48 a.m., suggesting Kohberger may have turned his phone off during the attack, the affidavit said.

At that point, the phone began taking a roundabout route back to Pullman, traveling south to Genesee, Idaho, then west to Uniontown, Washington and north to Pullman just before 5:30 a.m., around the same time the white sedan showed up on surveillance cameras in town.

The affidavit included another chilling detail about Kohberger’s cellphone data: The phone returned to the victims' neighborhood hours after the attack.

Records show the phone left Kohberger’s residence in Pullman around 9 a.m. and traveled towards Moscow.

Location data shows the phone was near the off-campus house on King Road between 9:12 a.m. and 9:21 a.m. The phone then traveled back to the Pullman area around 9:321 a.m.

More on the investigation

Kohberger was a criminology doctoral student at WSU when the murders took place and apparently stayed in Pullman through the end of the semester. Documents show his past education included undergraduate degrees in psychology and cloud-based forensics.

Kohberger had applied to become an intern with the Pullman Police Department sometime in the fall of 2022, writing in his application essay that he wanted to help rural law enforcement agencies collect and analyze technical data in public safety operations, according to the affidavit.

The document does not say if Kohberger was granted the internship.

According to the affidavit, Kohberger also posted a survey on Reddit asking for participants for information to “understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision making when committing a crime.”

After the semester was over, Kohberger drove across the country to his parent’s home in Pennsylvania, accompanied by his father. Kohberger and his father were pulled over twice while driving from Washington to Pennsylvania. They were in a white Elantra.

Law enforcement in Pennsylvania took trash from Kohberger’s family residence in Albrightsville on Dec. 27. The evidence was then sent to the Idaho State Lab for testing.

On Dec. 28, the state lab reported the DNA profile from the trash and the DNA obtained from the sheath found at the crime scene “identifies a male as not being excluded as the biological father of suspect profile.”

“At least 99.9998% of the male population would be expected to be excluded from the possibility of being the suspect's biological father,” the affidavit reads.

An arrest warrant for Kohberger was requested on Dec. 29, and he was arrested on murder and burglary charges on Dec. 30.

During Thursday's court hearing, Kohberger appeared with his attorney in an orange jumpsuit and remained silent while the magistrate ordered him not to have contact with the victims’ families. His next hearing was set for Jan. 12.

Some of Goncalves' family members attended the hearing.

“It's obviously an emotional time for the family, seeing the defendant for the first time,” the Goncalves family attorney, Shanon Gray, said outside the courthouse. “This is the beginning of the criminal justice system and the family will be here for the long haul.”

Kohberger's defense attorney, Anne Taylor, did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. A magistrate judge has placed the attorneys and others involved in the case under a sweeping gag order barring them from talking publicly about the case.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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