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Crime News University of Idaho Murders

Mother Of Idaho Victim Says She Learned Of ‘Critical’ Clue In The Case When It Was Announced To The Public

An attorney for the family of Kaylee Goncalves criticized police for their communication with the families of the victims.

By Jill Sederstrom
Four University Of Idaho Students Fatally Stabbed In 'Targeted' Attack

The mother of one of the Idaho college students stabbed to death last month said she learned of a “critical” clue in the case at the same time as the public.

Kristi Goncalves—whose 21-year-old daughter Kaylee Goncalves was one of four victims killed in an off-campus rental house in November—told NBC’s “TODAY” show that she learned investigators were looking for a white Hyundai Elantra that could be linked to the case after her daughter read about the development in media reports.

“My first thought just started being like, 'How long have they had this information? Where do they get this information? Was it on camera?'” she asked.

Kristi expressed frustration that she wasn’t told about the development before police released a public plea for help finding the vehicle and its occupant or occupants on Dec. 7.

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“The United States just found out the same time I did,” she said.

Moscow Police announced last week that a white 2011-2013 Hyundai Elantra was spotted in the “immediate area” of the home on King Street “during the early morning hours of November 13,” around the same time authorities believe Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20; were killed.

“Investigators believe the occupant(s) of this vehicle may have critical information to share regarding this case,” police said in the plea. “If you know of or own a vehicle matching this description, or know of anyone who may have been driving this vehicle on the days preceding or the day of the murders, please forward that information to the Tip Line.”

Xana Kernodle, Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen

Shannon Gray, a lawyer representing the Goncalves family, argued that Moscow Police should have released the information to the victims’ families first because they “should be prepared to be able to answer any questions about those things.”

Gray added that it would have allowed the families “to sleep at night” to know they could “trust” the police to keep them in the loop.

Police spokesperson Robbie Johnson said in an email to NBC News that Gray had been sent an email with the new information at 2:24 p.m. on Dec. 7 to share with the family, although it was unclear whether that was before or after the information had been given to the public.

Kristi was also critical of the coroner in the case, saying Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt, who also doubles as a defense attorney, provided her teenage daughter with graphic details about the slayings over the phone.

She allegedly asked the teen “Are you sure you want to know this?”

“And my daughter, thinking that she did for whatever reason, said yes,” Kristi said.

Gray, who described the details provided by the coroner as “memorable, and not in a good way” argued that the teen should have never been given the information.

“I think that the coroner thought she was helping out in some way—I’m not sure,” Gray said.

Mabbutt did not respond about the allegations to the “TODAY” show, but did discuss her role in the case this week with Fox News.

She told the news outlet that each victim had multiple stab wounds.

“It had to be a really big knife to inflict those injuries and kill four people,” she said.

Police believe all four victims were likely killed in their sleep, but Mabbutt said at least one victim had defensive wounds which could indicate she had woken up during the attack.

"I deal with a lot of sadness, but this is pretty extreme," she said. "It's pretty unusual for us to get homicides, let alone four at a time."

Mabbutt did not perform the autopsies in the case, which were handled by the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office.

She said she will not receive the full reports from the autopsies until the toxicology results are in—although she questioned the value the toxicology reports would have in the case.

"They can be related to cause or manner of death, but they are not in this case," she said, adding that they were unlikely to provide any new clues in the investigation.

Kristi Goncalves told ABC News that she believed the unknown killer had been calculated.

“This person went in very methodical,” she said. “I think he really thought it out. I think he was quick. I think it was quiet. And he got in and he got out.”

After more than a month, investigators have yet to make any arrests in the case but Moscow Police Capt. Roger Lanier said in a video update Tuesday that authorities are still making progress.

“This investigation is not cold,” he said. “We get tips every day that are viable. We get dozens and dozens of tips. We sort through and we prioritize them and for sure some of them are not good tips, they are not even relevant to the case, but every single day we get a good amount of viable tips.”

Gray said the Goncalves family is trying “to support the investigation” but also wants to hold police accountable.

“We’re just hopeful and optimistic that they [police] have taken the right path,” Gray said.