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Woman Who Discovered Her Own College Roommate Nearly Beaten To Death Comes To Defense Of University Of Idaho Surviving Roommate
“I really hope that the media can just back off a little bit…and allow her to heal, because it’s going to be a long process,” Alanna Zabel said of surviving University of Idaho roommate Dylan Mortensen.
A woman who discovered her college roommate nearly beaten to death more than 30 years ago in Buffalo is coming to the defense of the surviving roommate in the University of Idaho murders after noting eerie similarities between the two crimes.
Dylan Mortensen has faced increasing public scrutiny after an affidavit released last week and obtained by Oxygen.com revealed the college student had seen the suspected killer inside the Moscow, Idaho home, masked and wearing all black, nearly eight hours before a call was placed to 911.
Mortensen’s three roommates, Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; and Xana Kernodle, 20; had been fatally stabbed to death along with Kernodle’s 20-year-old boyfriend Ethan Chapin. A fifth roommate, Bethany Funke, was home, but not targeted in the attack, and survived.
Now, 50-year-old Alanna Zabel — who faced her own harrowing ordeal at the University of Buffalo in 1992 — has now come forward to defend Mortensen’s actions to Fox News.
“I really hope that the media can just back off a little bit…and allow her to heal, because it’s going to be a long process,” Zabel said.
Investigators described Mortensen as being in a “frozen shock phase” when she peered outside her bedroom just after 4 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 13 and saw the suspected killer.
Mortensen, who was identified in the affidavit only as “D.M.”, told police she opened her door three different times after hearing someone say “there’s someone here” and then hearing the sound of crying coming from Kernodle’s bedroom. On the final time, she spotted the masked man, who walked right by her as he made his way to a screen door and fled the scene.
She returned to her bedroom and locked the door, but authorities weren’t called until 11:58 a.m. that day.
“I’m sure she was trying to put the pieces together,” Zabel said of the delay.
The murders brought back memories of Zabel’s own terrifying brush with violence as a student at the University of Buffalo, where she lived in a three-story home with five Chi Omega sorority sisters in 1992.
Zabel recalled entering the bedroom of one of her roommates to ask whether she could move her car when she noticed a foul smell. She assumed her roommate had vomited and choked to death, never noticing the large amount of blood in the room until the paramedics had arrived. In reality, her roommate had been raped and nearly beaten to death.
She believes she was likely in shock and unable to fully take in the details of what she discovered until much later.
"I saw no blood, a lot of liquid, so I assumed that she had choked on her vomit and was unconscious," Zabel said. "It was not until the paramedics came and I was walking behind the paramedic in the hallway that he stopped and stepped backward like, ‘Oh, my God, look at all the blood.’ And as soon as he said ‘blood,’ the room was filled. The mattress was three-quarters soaked in blood, she was covered in blood. I did not see it beforehand. When you are in that heightened state of fear and survival, your mind will do what it has to do to protect you."
She also said the unique aspects of college life may have impacted her own reaction — and the reaction Mortensen had more than three decades later.
"The mind is a powerful thing, and when you live with five other people and it’s a very party aspect, college life where it could be a fraternity prank, or there are multiple people moving through the house at all times, you always want to assume that it’s not the worst-case scenario," she said.
Dr. Judith F. Joseph, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University Grossman School of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, explained the psychology behind the flight, fight or freeze mode to NBC News.
“When your body is in shock and you think you’re going to die or you think you’re in a threatening situation, adrenaline surges your sympathetic nervous system and takes off, and you may experience a frozen state where consciously you know what’s happening, but then a coping mechanism is for you to dissociate,” Joseph said.
It’s possible someone who experienced traumatic shock can “disassociate in and out for hours,” she said.
Dr. Akeem Marsh, a clinical professor of psychiatry who also works at New York University Grossman School of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, also told the news outlet it’s possible the dissociative state made her confused and unable to understand what was happening.
“In those states, the mind is really shutting down to protect itself,” Marsh said, adding that the person may have “no concept of time” and be unable to realize that hours have passed until they “snap back to reality."
Mortensen has been commended by some, including Shanon Gray, an attorney who represents the Goncalves family, for being able to provide police with a detailed description of the killer. She described the man as being at least 5-feet, 10-inches tall with “bushy eyebrows” and a slender build, according to the affidavit.
“She’s a victim in this case. Everybody kinds of forgets that,” Gray told Fox News. “And the fact that she was able to give some additional identification, I think is beneficial to the case.”
He believes she likely returned to her room because she was terrified by what she saw.
“She was scared to death and rightly so,” he said. “This guy had just murdered four people in the home. So, you know, who knows what was going through her mind.”
Gray added that the Goncalves family does not hold any “ill will” against her.
Mortensen has yet to make any public statements about the murders, other than to provide a statement in November for a church vigil honoring the four victims.
At the time, she described her roommates as people who “lit up any room they walked into and were gifts to this world,” according to NBC News.
“My life was greatly impacted to have known these four beautiful people,” she wrote, adding that they had “changed my life in so many ways.”
Mortensen was spotted on Sunday leaving her family’s home in Boise, Idaho for a coffee run, according to The Daily Mail.
Investigators arrested 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger on Dec. 30 in connection to the quadruple homicide. At the time of the murders, Kohberger had been a Ph.D. criminal justice student at the nearby Washington State University, where he also worked as a teaching assistant.
Kohberger, who appeared in an Idaho courtroom last week, has yet to enter a plea. He is facing four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary.