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In a small college town that has not seen a murder in seven years, the killing of four students in one house on the same night was bound to cause shockwaves.
Indeed, since the bodies of Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle, and Madison Mogen were discovered on 13 November in Moscow, Idaho, residents’ alarm and disquiet has made itself known in a flood of 911 calls.
“We understand there is a sense of fear within our community,” said the Moscow Police Department on Sunday, revealing that it had received more calls about “unusual circumstances” and requests for welfare checks in the past two weeks than in the entire month of October.
And because the department releases daily public summaries of its 911 calls, we can get a sense of how the murders have affected the community of Moscow.
All quotes are in the words of police officers or emergency dispatches who logged the calls.
‘Suspicious males’ with ski masks and knives
On Wednesday 23 November, just before 9am, the owner of a laundromat in Moscow reported something alarming: “A mark on [a] column inside that looks like blood.” Though a police officer responded, they did not file any report.
It is just one of many potentially worrying but seemingly unconnected sights and sounds reported in the town since the murders.
One person reported a “suspicious vehicle in the parking lot”, along with “a person out digging in the dirt”. Officers made contact with the person, yet filed no report.
Another report said there was a person “standing in the cul-de-sac, wearing a big jacket and wearing a black ski mask”. Officers were unable to locate them. A report on Sun 20 November described “a male on the side of the road carrying a knife in front of him, stretched out”. Officers made no report.
Numerous 911 calls focused on “suspicious” men, suggesting Moscow residents are particularly alert to the possibility of a male perpetrator. That is hardly unreasonable given the overwhelming evidence that men are more likely to commit violent crimes than women.
A caller on Sunday night, the same day the murders became public, reported a “male standing near [a] bike rack who looked like he was trying to hide”.
Over the next two weeks, citizens reported a “male outside taking photos of the upper floors”, a “male acting strange and throwing things into a dumpster”, a “suspicious male” on the University of Idaho campus, a “male wandering around the area” who was there several days ago too, a “male at [the] dog park asking strange questions”, a “strange male saying suspicious things”, and more.
One caller appeared to be galvanised by the murders to report a previous incident, saying on Monday 21 November that they wanted to report a “suspicious male” encountered more than a week before.
‘You better watch out’
While some calls could easily have been false alarms, others suggest genuine incidents of harassment or threats. A caller on Wednesday 16 November said a man kept calling them and whispering in a low voice.
A caller on Thanksgiving day said a man had given their daughter a note on the back of a receipt while she was at work, saying: “You better watch out.”
One person reported a man who came into their business and “kept trying to get a young female employee to go outside with him”, while another said they were followed home from work by an unknown person. In both cases officers made contact with the suspicious person, but filed no reports.
A number of 911 calls involved suspicious noises or unexplained phenomena, suggesting an understandable jumpiness among residents.
“RP [reporting person] keeps waking up to noises outside and would like an officer to check the area,” said a call log from Saturday 19 November. “Officers responded, no report.” Another three days later read: “RP is hearing noises above her and it’s making her nervous. Officers responded, no report.”
Some reports mentioned hearing screams, including people screaming for help, while others said they had experienced people knocking on their doors or windows, or ringing their doorbells and then disappearing.
There were several reports of suspicious vehicles, as well as people finding their doors mysteriously locked or unlocked.
“RP states she thinks someone that has been trying to enter the residence the past few nights. Would like to talk with an officer. Report taken,” said a report on Thursday 17 November.
A caller the previous day claimed that someone had knocked on their door and then walked away saying “they have a big dog, try a different house”. An officer responded but did not file a report.
Callers describe the toll of media attention
In most cases, we cannot know whether a given report was influenced by the disturbing events of this month. Many similar reports were made in the days before the murders, only in lesser numbers.
Some reports, however, seemed to clearly reference the killings, such as a woman who said she got a private message on Instagram from a stranger saying “be safe out there”.
“RP would like to speak with an officer. Scared about recent events and wants to keep his kids home from school again today,” said a report on Tuesday 15 November, two days after the murders.
“Caller requesting an officer to escort her daughter to her vehicle and home after she gets off of work at midnight,” said another at around 11pm on Sunday 20 November.
A caller on Tuesday 22 November reported that a man was “walking around taking down the posters with the tip line information” – probably referring to the tip line being used to submit reports about the students’ deaths.
In other cases, the investigation itself – and the intense national media interest that it has attracted – were the source of residents’ problems.
“RP’s vehicle is blocked in by caution tape. RP stated she is unable to leave due to the caution tape and reporters blocking the exits,” said a report on 20 November.
Another two days later said: “RP has concerns and questions about the media interfering with the RP’s life and daily activities. Officer contacted. No report.”