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Officials want to demolish crime scene of Idaho murders, sparking debate

In the house where four University of Idaho students were murdered last year, sheets of plywood cover the windows. A temporary fence surrounds the yard. Security guards, posted in a blue caravan, provide 24-hour guard duty.

And yet, for a university trying to erase the remnants of a tragedy that has cast a terrifying shadow over the past academic year, the hillside house near campus remains uncomfortably visible – visible from nearby fraternity houses. and sought after as a photo spot by true crime aficionados from across the country. University officials hope to tear it down before a new class of students arrives in August.

But the plan has distressed some family members of the four slain students, who fear the home may be vital for the prosecution of the accused killer, and for a jury to understand how the four students could have been shot in bedrooms on the second and third floor without alerting two other roommates in the house. They urged the university to suspend all demolition.

“The best thing for the case is that we be careful and protect what the jury might want to understand,” said Steve Goncalves, the father of one of the victims, Kaylee Goncalves. , about the university announcement.

The parents of Ethan Chapin, another of the victims, said the situation was difficult, with no easy answers. On the one hand, they agree with Mr. Goncalves that the demolition of the house this summer “seems very early”, 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 that overlooks the house, providing a constant reminder.

“Our children have to walk past this house every day,” Ms Chapin said. “Children, they need to heal. The university needs to 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 next. of mass murder.

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 tear down the school and build a new one.

Other communities have left such crime scenes intact. The large South Carolina hunting estate where Alex Murdaugh’s wife and youngest son were killed in 2021 has been sold for $3.9 million just weeks after Mr. Murdaugh, a prominent lawyer, was convicted of murdering them. Students in Santa Fe, Texas, returned within weeks to a high school where a gunman killed 10 people in 2018.

And while some residents have called for the demolition of the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, which was the site 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 letting the crime scene stand for jurors. The classroom building in Parkland, Florida where a gunman killed 17 students and staff five years ago still stands, fenced in from which students take classes in adjacent buildings. Jurors toured the abandoned building last year during the shooter’s sentencing trial, walking past shards of glass, bullet-riddled walls and floors still stained with blood.

After the acquittal last week of a school resource officer who failed to confront the shooter – the latest criminal case arising from the shooting – school officials said they now plan to proceed with the demolition . But first, authorities began allowing relatives of the victims to walk the halls 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 a feed room. Similarly, when novelist Michael Peterson stood trial in 2003, accused of killing his wife, jurors were given the opportunity to examine the stairwell where she died in their home. The house remains standing, despite having been sold several times since Mr Peterson’s trial, including at one point to a man who describes himself as a ‘clairvoyant medium’.

Stabbings in Idaho on Nov. 13 left four college students dead: Ms. Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Mr. Chapin, 20. Their bodies were not discovered for hours and a suspect was not identified for weeks. Investigators finally arrested Bryan Kohberger in late December, a Ph.D. a criminology student at nearby Washington State University.

Jodi Walker, a spokeswoman for the university, said the house, in the middle of a student housing area, was a constant reminder of what was going on there. She said officials also considered the needs of all students and staff on campus when making the decision to tear down the structure.

“It’s 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 objections” to the plan, according to an email. County Attorney Bill Thompson told the university he didn’t object either, because authorities didn’t believe it would be necessary for a trial.

“The scene has been significantly altered from its condition at the time of the homicides, including the removal of relevant property and furniture, the removal of some structural elements such as wall panels and flooring, and has been subjected to intensive chemical application creating a potential health hazard,” Thompson wrote in a separate email. “These are some of the reasons we have concluded that a ‘jury perspective’ would not be appropriate.”

Last week, trucks pulled up outside the house to begin removing former residents’ belongings, a process that could take several weeks. Demolition was to begin soon after.

But some family members of the victims say that with the trial only scheduled for October, it is too early to destroy the site of the murders.

Shanon Gray, a lawyer representing the Goncalves family, said jurors might need to see the house to understand how noise traveled through the building and how a killer could move through the home’s unusual six-bedroom layout.

He argued that the university was rushing to tear it down because it wanted to leave the tragedy behind before dealing with it fully.

“This is for the University of Idaho, trying to tell everyone to hurry up and forget that this ever happened,” he said.

Members of Ms Mogen’s family and Ms Kernodle’s family also want 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 make it easier to demolish homes with bad track records, but private homes often end up suffering the same fate. The Illinois home where many of John Wayne Gacy’s victims were found was razed and a new one was built; in Wisconsin, the building where Jeffrey Dahmer committed a series of horrific murders has also been demolished. The lot remains empty today.

University of Idaho officials did not present a plan for the use of the property in Moscow after the house was razed.

Neighbors have remained largely silent about the fate of the house, which sits on a dead end street south of campus near several other residence halls.

Vanessa Lopez, 25, lives near the house and sees her every day. She said the property had become something of a tourist attraction, which she found disrespectful, and a constant reminder of the horrors happening in what had always been a quiet little town.

Ms Lopez said the wishes of the families of the victims should come first, but she would be happy to see the house go. “With it still there, it just brings back memories,” she said.

For Mr. Goncalves, the house has a deeply personal meaning, both as a place where his daughter had many of the best times of her life and as a symbol of how he feels the community has failed to protect her and her friends. But the more immediate issue now, he said, is preserving it to ensure those responsible for the killings are held accountable. Tearing down the house, he says, will not make the nightmare that happened there go away.

“It will just be a hole in the ground,” he said. “Is it better?”


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