In the house where four University of Idaho students were murdered last year, sheets of plywood cover the windows. A temporary fence surrounds the courtyard. Security guards stationed in a blue trailer keep watch 24 hours a day.
Yet for a university seeking to erase the remnants of a tragedy that has cast a terrifying shadow over the past academic year, the house on a hill near campus remains uncomfortably conspicuous, visible from nearby fraternity houses and sought-after as a photographic location from true-crime enthusiasts from all over the country. University officials hope to demolish it before a new class of students arrive in August.
But the plan has distressed some family members of the four slain students, who fear the house could be vital to the prosecution of the accused killer and to the jury’s understanding of how the four students may have been butchered in the bedrooms the second and third floor without alerting two other roommates in the house. They pressured the university to hold off any demolitions.
“What’s best for the case is for us to pay attention and protect what the jury might want to wrap their heads around,” Steve Goncalves, the father of one of the victims, Kaylee Goncalves, said of the university’s announcement.
The parents of Ethan Chapin, another of the victims, said the situation was difficult, with no easy answers. On the one hand, I agree with Mr. Goncalves that demolishing the house this summer « seems very soon, » said Mr. Chapin’s mother, Stacy. But she noted that their other two children—they were triplets—are still students at the University of Idaho, and one of them has a room overlooking the house, providing a constant reminder.
« Our children have to walk past that house every day, » Ms. Chapin said. “Children need to heal. The university must heal. And the community. »
The Idaho home joins a growing list of notorious properties across the country whose fates have become the subject of complex legal and ethical debates, as communities try to decide what, if anything, should remain in the aftermath of a murder mass.
In Newtown, Connecticut, the Sandy Hook Elementary School building was razed and rebuilt after the 2012 mass shooting that left 26 people dead. In Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers last year, the school district has similar plans to demolish the school and build a new one.
Other communities have left such crime scenes intact. The large hunting estate in South Carolina where Alex Murdaugh’s wife and youngest son were killed in 2021 sold for $3.9 million just weeks after Mr. Murdaugh, a prominent attorney, was convicted of the murder. Students in Santa Fe, Texas returned within weeks to a high school where a gunman killed 10 people in 2018.
And while some residents called for the demolition of the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the scene of a mass shooting in 2012, it was instead renamed, remodeled and reopened within six months.
The Idaho case isn’t the only one where some have advocated leaving the crime scene standing for jurors. The classroom building in Parkland, Florida where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members five years ago still stands, fenced off from where students attend classes in adjacent buildings. Jurors toured the abandoned building last year during the gunman’s sentencing trial, making their way past shards of glass, walls riddled with bullet holes, and floors still smeared with blood.
Following the acquittal last week of a school resource officer who failed to confront the gunman — the latest prosecution stemming from the shootings — school officials said they now intend to proceed with the demolition. But first the authorities began to allow relatives of the victims walk the hallways of the building this week for the first time since the shooting, if they wanted to.
Jurors visited Murdaugh’s crime scene in Islandton, SC during Mr. Murdaugh’s trial this year. They spent about an hour walking around the area where the victims were shot, including a shed and feed room. Similarly, when novelist Michael Peterson went on trial in 2003 for murdering his wife, jurors were given the opportunity to examine the stairwell where she died in their home. The house remains standing, although it has been sold several times since Mr. Peterson’s trial, including to a man who describes himself as a « clairvoyant medium ».
Stabbings in Idaho on Nov. 13 claimed the lives of four students: Ms. Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Mr. Chapin, 20 years old. Their bodies weren’t discovered for hours, and a suspect wasn’t identified for weeks. Investigators eventually arrested Bryan Kohberger in late December, a Ph.D. criminology student at nearby Washington State University.
Jodi Walker, a university spokeswoman, said the house, in the middle of a student housing estate, was a constant reminder of what went on there. She said officials were also considering the needs of all students and campus staff when they made the decision to demolish the facility.
« This is another step towards healing, » she said. « It’s definitely a balancing act. »
Mr. Kohberger’s defense attorney Anne Taylor told campus officials in April that she had « no objection » to the plan, according to an email. County prosecutor Bill Thompson told the university he also didn’t object, because authorities didn’t think it would be necessary for the trial.
« The scene has been substantially altered from its condition at the time of the murders, including the removal of pertinent property and furnishings, the removal of some structural elements such as paneling and flooring, and an extensive chemical application that creates a potential danger to health, » said Mr. Thompson wrote in a separate email. « These are some of the reasons we concluded that a ‘jury point of view’ would not be appropriate. »
Last week, trucks stopped in front of the home to begin removing the former residents’ belongings, a process that could take several weeks. Demolition was to begin soon after.
But some relatives of the victims say that with the trial not scheduled before October, it is too early to destroy the site of the murders.
Shanon Gray, an attorney representing the Goncalves family, said jurors may need to see the house to understand how the noise traveled through the building and how a killer might move through the unusual six-bedroom arrangement. of the House.
He argued that the university was rushing to tear it down because it wanted to put the tragedy behind it before fully addressing it.
« It’s for the University of Idaho, trying to tell everyone to hurry up and forget it ever happened, » he said.
Members of Ms Mogen’s family and Ms Kernodle’s family also want to see the house preserved until the criminal case is resolved, Mr Gray said.
The owner of the house where the murders took place donated the house to the university, leaving its fate in the hands of the school administration. Public ownership can facilitate the demolition of homes with bad histories, but privately owned homes often end up with the same fate. The house in Illinois where many of John Wayne Gacy’s victims were found burned to the ground and a new one was built; in Wisconsin, the apartment building where Jeffrey Dahmer committed a series of gruesome murders has also been demolished. The lot remains empty today.
University of Idaho officials have not presented a plan on how to use the property in Moscow after the house burns to the ground.
Neighbors have remained largely silent about the fate of the home, which sits on a cul-de-sac south of campus near several other residence halls.
Vanessa Lopez, 25, lives close to home and sees her every day. She said her property had become something of a tourist attraction, which she found disrespectful and a constant reminder of the horrors that had occurred in what had always been a sleepy town.
Ms Lopez said the victims’ families’ wishes should come first, but she would be glad to see the house destroyed. « With what’s still there, it just brings up the memories, » she said.
For Mr. Goncalves, the house holds deeply personal significance, both as a place where his daughter has experienced many of the best moments of her life, and as a symbol of how she believes the community has failed to protect her and her friends. But the more immediate issue now, he said, is preserving it to ensure there is accountability for the killings. Tearing down the house, he said, won’t make the nightmare that happened there go away.
« It’s just going to be a goddamn hole in the ground, » he said. « Somehow is it better? »