The University of Idaho community mourns the loss of four students through a spontaneous memorial at the entrance to the campus. (Photo by Garrett Britton, University Visual Production)

As the University of Idaho concludes a fall semester marred by tragedy, university officials are weighing their options for spring.

And that might include expanded online offerings for students who are uneasy about being on campus.

Before the holiday break, the U of I hopes to have a spring semester plan — which will be a fluid plan, as police continue to investigate the slayings of four U of I students, found dead in an off-campus house on Nov. 13.

Torrey Lawrence

“We’re thinking through a variety of scenarios, and I think we’ll have news on that soon,” U of I provost and executive vice president Torrey Lawrence said in an Idaho Education News interview Tuesday.

The spring semester begins Jan. 11, in roughly six weeks.

On Monday, classes resumed after Thanksgiving break, with some students returning to campus, and some students wrapping up fall semester remotely.

It’s unclear how many students returned this week, and how many stayed home. But based on what he has seen and heard from faculty, Lawrence says he believes more students are back on campus — compared to the days after the slayings, when a significant number of students went home ahead of the Thanksgiving break.

However, Lawrence said the U of I will try to remain flexible through finals week, knowing some students might still change their minds about staying on campus.

“We’re frankly just trying to help students get through this semester successfully and safely and in a way that they are comfortable,” Lawrence said.

Another change on campus this week is an enhanced security presence. The Idaho State Police — which is working with the Moscow Police Department on the homicide investigation — has assigned troopers to help with campus security. The university has also ramped up its “Safe Walk” program, which provides escorts upon request.

During Tuesday’s interview, Lawrence emphasized the U of I’s relationship with law enforcement. The U of I receives twice daily briefings on the investigation, he said. And while police say they have not identified a suspect — and have never publicly explained why they believe the slayings were a targeted attack — the U of I continues to base its decisions and protocols on the advice of law enforcement.

“At this point, they have the most information,” he said.

Lawrence also praised the work of U of I faculty and staff, as they grieve the loss of the four students. Instructors have changed their learning plans quickly, drawing on the lessons they learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. And counselors and support staff have “excelled” during a trying time for the campus community.

“That is hard difficult work, to walk into a fraternity or sorority who has lost a brother or sister and talk to them and grieve with them,” Lawrence said.

Investigation update

As classes resumed on campus Monday, Moscow police released no new details on the investigation into the deaths of the four students: Ethan Chapin, 20, a freshman from Mount Vernon, Wash.; Kaylee Goncalves, 21, a senior from Rathdrum; Xana Kernodle, 20, a junior from Post Falls; and Madison Mogen, 21, a senior from Coeur d’Alene.

Instead, police debunked two rumors about the case: They said a February death in Moscow was due to an overdose, and was unconnected with the slayings, and dismissed online reports that connected a red Ford Mustang to the scene of the homicides.

Police again appealed for tips.

“Detectives are looking for context to the events and people involved in these murders,” Moscow police said in a statement. “To assist with the ongoing investigation, any odd or out-of-the-ordinary events that took place should be reported. Our focus is the investigation, not the activities. Your information, whether you believe it is significant or not, might be a piece of the puzzle to help investigators solve these murders.”

Tips can be submitted at (208) 883-7180, [email protected] or at fbi.gov/moscowidaho

Listen here: Click here for the Kevin Richert Podcast, and Tuesday’s interview with U of I Provost Torrey Lawrence.

Kevin Richert

About Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on KIVI 6 On Your Side; “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public Television; and “Idaho Matters” on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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