Families of slain University of Idaho students prepare to sue college over murders

·5-min read

The families of two of the four University of Idaho students stabbed to death in an off-campus home are now preparing to sue the college over their brutal murders, it has been revealed.

An attorney representing the families of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Madison Mogen, 21, filed tort notices this month leaving them open to filing lawsuits within the next two years.

The notices, obtained by ABC News, protect their rights to sue the University of Idaho, Washington State University – the university where accused killer Bryan Kohberger was a student – the city of Moscow and Idaho State Police.

No lawsuit has been filed at this stage and the notices do not reveal what claim the families may make or how much damages they may seek.

The families’ attorney Shanon Gray said that the legal move isn’t meant to do anything “other than protect the interests of the families and the victims moving forward”.

“Filing a tort claims notice is really just a safeguard,” he told ABC News.

“It’s a safeguard to protect the interests of the families, the victims and really the whole community around, because if something goes wrong, or was done improperly, then someone is held accountable for that.”

The notices, filed in early May, come as the man accused of killing Goncalves, Mogen, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Etham Chapin, 20, appeared in court for his arraignment.

Mr Kohberger, a 28-year-old criminology PhD student, appeared in Latah County Court on Monday morning where he refused to enter a plea on four charges of first-degree murder and one charge of burglary.

Shackled and dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, the accused killer showed no emotion as the judge read out the charges and the names of the four victims who he is accused of violently killing.

Mr Kohberger spoke only to answer defiantly and loudly “yes” and “yes I do” when asked if he understood the charges, maximum penalties and his rights in the court.

Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves pictured together before their murders (Instagram)
Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves pictured together before their murders (Instagram)

His attorney Anne Taylor told the court that he was “standing silent” on the charges, leaving the judge to enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Judge John Judge set Mr Kohberger’s trial date for 2 October 2023 and the prosecution now has 60 days to confirm whether or not they are seeking the death penalty.

Mr Kohberger had been due to appear in court for a week-long preliminary hearing on 26 June, where the prosecution would lay out the case and evidence against the suspect.

However, last week, a grand jury indicted Mr Kohberger on the charges, paving the way for the case to proceed to trial without that hearing.

Mr Kohberger is accused of breaking into an off-campus student home on King Road in the early hours of 13 November and stabbing the four students to death with a large, military-style knife.

Two other female roommates lived with the three women at the property and were home at the time of the massacre but survived.

One of the survivors – Dylan Mortensen – came face to face with the masked killer, dressed in head-to-toe black and with bushy eyebrows, as he left the home in the aftermath of the murders, according to the criminal affidavit.

For more than six weeks, the college town of Moscow was plunged into fear as the accused killer remained at large with no arrests made and no suspects named.

Then, on 30 December, law enforcement suddenly swooped on Mr Kohberger’s family home in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania and arrested him for the quadruple murders.

The motive remains unknown and it is still unclear what connection the WSU PhD student had to the University of Idaho students – if any – prior to the murders.

However, the affidavit, released in January, revealed that Mr Kohberger’s DNA was found on a knife sheath left behind at the scene of the murders.

It also revealed that his white Hyundai Elantra was caught on surveillance footage close to the crime scene.

New details have emerged since about what was found during an initial search of his apartment in Pullman and a rental storage unit.

Bryan Kohberger listens in court at his arraignment (Reuters)
Bryan Kohberger listens in court at his arraignment (Reuters)

The court documents show that two items found in his apartment – a mattress cover on the bed and an uncased pillow – tested positive for blood.

The documents do not reveal who the blood belongs to.

Investigators also seized a string of other items from his home including possible human and animal hair strands, a disposable glove and a computer.

Meanwhile, the murder weapon – a fixed-blade knife – has still never been found.

As a criminal justice PhD student at WSU, Mr Kohberger lived just 15 minutes from the victims over the Idaho-Washington border in Pullman.

He had moved there from Pennsylvania and began his studies there that summer, having just completed his first semester before his arrest.

Before this, he studied criminology at DeSales University – first as an undergraduate and then finishing his graduate studies in June 2022.

Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, took this photo together hours before they died

While there, he studied under renowned forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland who interviewed the BTK serial killer and co-wrote the book Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer with him.

He also carried out a research project “to understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision-making when committing a crime”.

He is facing life in prison or the death penalty for the murders that have rocked the small college town of Moscow and hit headlines around the globe.