At 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 trailer, stand guard 24 hours a day.
And yet, for a university trying to erase the remnants of a tragedy that cast a terrible shadow over the past academic year, the house on a hillside near campus remains uncomfortably conspicuous — visible from nearby fraternity houses and sought after as a photo location of a true one. -crime buffs from all over the country. University officials hope to demolish it before a new class of students arrives in August.
But the plan has distressed some family members of the four students killed, who worry that the house could be essential to the prosecution of the accused killer, and to a jury’s understanding of how the four students could have been slaughtered in bedrooms on the second and. third floors without alerting two other roommates in the house. They pressured the university to hold off on any demolition.
“What’s best for the case is for us to be careful and protect what the jury might want to wrap their heads around,” Steve Goncalves, the father of one of the victims, Kaylee Goncalves, said of the university’s announcement.
The parents of Ethan Chapin, another of the victims, said the situation is difficult, with no easy answers. On the one hand, they agree with Mr. Goncalves that tearing down the home this summer “feels very early,” said Mr. Chapin’s mother, Stacy. But she noted that their two other 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 that house every day,” Ms. Chapin said. “The children, they must recover. The university needs to heal. And the community.”
The house in Idaho joins a growing list of well-known properties around the country whose fates have become the subject of complex legal and ethical debates as communities try to decide what, if anything, should remain in the aftermath of a 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 demolish the school and build a new one.
Other communities have left such crime scenes intact. The large hunting farm in South Carolina where Alex Murdaugh’s wife and younger 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 weeks later to the high school where a gunman killed 10 people in 2018.
And while some residents called for the demolition of the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., which was the site of a mass shooting in 2012, it was instead renamed, remodeled and reopened within six months.
The case in Idaho is not the only one where some have advocated leaving the crime scene standing for jurors. The classroom building in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members five years ago is still standing, barricaded from where students attend classes in adjacent buildings. Jurors toured the abandoned building last year during the gunman’s trial, making their way past shards of glass, walls riddled with bullet holes and floors still smeared with blood.
After the acquittal last week of a school resource officer who failed to confront the gunman — the latest criminal case stemming from the shootings — school officials said they now planned to proceed with demolition. But first, the authorities began to allow the relatives of victims to walk the halls of the building this week for the first time since the shooting, if they wanted to.
Jurors visited the Murdaugh 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 dining room. Similarly, when the novelist Michael Peterson was tried in 2003, accused of killing his wife, jurors were given an opportunity to examine the stairwell where she died in her home. The house remains standing, although it has been sold several times since Mr Peterson’s trial, including at one point to a man who describes himself as a “clairvoyant medium”.
The stabbings in Idaho on November 13 left four students dead: Mrs. 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, Ph.D. criminology student at nearby Washington State University.
Jodi Walker, a university spokeswoman, said the house, in the middle of a student residence, is a constant reminder of what happened there. She said officials also considered the needs of all students and staff members on campus when they made the decision to demolish the structure.
“This is another step toward 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 objection” to the plan, according to an email. The county attorney, Bill Thompson, told the university he didn’t object either because authorities didn’t think it would be needed for a trial.
“The scene has been substantially altered from its state at the time of the homicides including removal of relevant property and furnishings, removal of some structural items such as wallboard and flooring, and subjected to extensive chemical application creating a potential health hazard,” Mr. Thompson wrote in a separate email. “These are some of the reasons we concluded that a ‘jury opinion’ would not be appropriate.”
Last week, trucks pulled up to the house to begin removing the former residents’ belongings, a process that could take several weeks. Demolition was set to begin shortly thereafter.
But some family members of the victims say that with the trial not scheduled until October, it is too soon to destroy the scene of the murders.
Shanon Gray, an attorney representing the Goncalves family, said jurors may need to see the house to understand how noise traveled in the building, and how a killer was able to move through the home’s unusual six-bedroom layout.
He argued that the university rushed to demolish it because it wanted to leave the tragedy behind before fully dealing with it.
“It’s for the University of Idaho, trying to tell everybody to hurry up and forget this ever happened,” he said.
Members of Ms. Mogen’s family and Ms. Kernodle’s family also want to see the home preserved until the criminal case is resolved, Mr. Gray said.
The landlord of the house where the killings took place donated the house to the university, leaving its fate in the hands of the school administration. Public ownership may make it easier to tear down homes with bad histories, but homes in private ownership often end up with the same fate. The house in Illinois where many of John Wayne Gacy’s victims were found was razed and a new one was built; in Wisconsin, the apartment building where Jeffrey Dahmer committed a series of gruesome murders was also demolished. The lot remains empty today.
University of Idaho officials have not presented a plan for how the property in Moscow will be used after the house is razed.
Neighbors have been mostly silent about the fate of the house, which sits on a cul-de-sac south of campus, near several other residences.
Vanessa Lopez, 25, lives near the home and sees it every day. She said the property had become something of a tourist attraction, which she found disrespectful, and a constant reminder of the horrors that took place in what had always been a quiet little town.
Ms. Lopez said the wishes of the victims’ families should come first, but she would welcome seeing the house gone. “How that’s still there, it just brings back the memories,” she said.
For Mr. Goncalves, the house holds a deeply personal meaning, both as a place where his daughter had many of the best moments of her life, and as a symbol of how he believes the community failed to keep her and her friends safe. But the more immediate thing now, he said, is to preserve it to make sure there is accountability for the murders. Tearing down the house, he said, won’t take away the nightmare that happened there.
“It’s just going to be a horrible hole in the ground,” he said. “Is that any better?”