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Moscow Police Chief Says They Are In 'Regular Contact' With Victims' Families After Criticism

“We pass on as much information as we can to them," Moscow Police Chief James Fry said, adding that although it was frustrating for the families, they were withholding some information to protect the integrity of the investigation.

By Jill Sederstrom
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

Moscow Police insist they are in “regular contact” with the University of Idaho murder victims’ families each day, despite criticism from one victim’s family.

Moscow Police Chief James Fry addressed the criticism his small police department has received from some family members to NBC News, saying authorities are providing as much information as possible to the loved ones of the victims without compromising the ongoing investigation into who killed the four University of Idaho college students.

“We pass on as much information as we can to them. As I stated, there’s information that we’ve held back, and we know that frustrates them,” Fry told the news outlet. “But we’ve asked them to be patient. We asked them to trust us that we’re going to continue to move through this until we have a completion in the case.”

According to Fry, each family has a specially appointed liaison to keep them abreast of developments in the investigation.

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“Every family wants a little bit different information, and we have a liaison with each of the families,” he said.

Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, were found stabbed to death in an off-campus rental home on Nov. 13.

Xana Kernodle, Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen

Goncalves' family has been especially critical of police. Her father, Steven Goncalves, called police “cowards” in an interview earlier this month with Fox News while expressing his anger that police had not released more information to the public about the suspected killer or killers.  

“I got outraged by them not just coming out and saying this was a woman or a man because they should know by the amount of strength it took to deliver the injuries," he said at the time. "They're just being cowards. There are girls walking around the street right now that deserve to know. They should be looking out for a sadistic male."

His wife, Kristi Goncalves, also told NBC’s “TODAY” show that investigators didn’t notify the family they were searching for a white Hyundai Elantra that was spotted near the crime scene around the time of the murders, until the information had already been released to the media.

She said her daughter learned about the potential break in the case by reading it in a news report.

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

Police spokesperson Robbie Johnson later provided an email with the release that was sent to the family’s attorney at 2:24 p.m. on Dec. 7, although it was not clear about whether the email was sent before or after the media was notified of the development.

The family’s attorney Shannon Gray also questioned whether the department had the experience and resources to handle the quadruple homicide investigation.

"Trust is earned," Gray said, "and they need to remember that because the way they have handled things so far haven't garnered much trust.

A spokesperson for the Chapin family told NBC News that they were “beyond grateful” for the police liaison working with them.

“There is an ongoing and open line of communication so we remain knowledgeable about any new happening before the public,” the spokesperson said.

The police department also received public criticism after apparent mixed messages about the ongoing threat to the public in light of the murders. Although police initially announced they believed it had been a “targeted attack” and there was no ongoing threat to the public, Fry later seemed to walk back that claim.

“We do not have a suspect at this time, and that individual is still out there,” Fry said in a November press conference according to The Associated Press. “We cannot say that there is no threat to the community.”  

In an update to the case released Tuesday, Fry addressed the “numerous questions about leadership in this investigation.”

Let me be clear, this is the Moscow Police Departments' investigation, and I am the Chief of Police,” he said. “The decisions are mine and mine alone. I have an excellent Command Staff, with over 90 years of combined experience, overseeing the investigation's daily operation, and I select who runs the investigative teams.”

He went on to say that the small police department was also receiving help from other outside agencies.

“We are supported by highly trained and experienced personnel from the Idaho State Police and the FBI. Their continued resources and knowledge are vital to our success,” he said. “Our investigative units work under a unified structure and have the autonomy to move forward and solve this case. Despite statements about my team, we remain focused on solving the murder of four students to seek justice for them, their families and to help our community heal."

To date, police said they are working through more than 7,650 emailed tips, 4,313 phone tips and 4,583 digital submissions received in the case and have conducted more than 250 interviews.

To date, no suspect has been arrested and the murder weapon, believed to be fixed-blade knife, has not been found.

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