University Investigated Idaho Murder Suspect’s Behavior Around Time of Killings
The Ph.D. student charged with murdering four University of Idaho undergraduates displayed such troubling behavior in the weeks around the killings that the university investigated his conduct around women, counseled him over a verbal altercation with a professor and ultimately fired him from his job as a teaching assistant, according to interviews and a university record.
Less than two weeks before the killings in November, the Ph.D. student, Bryan Kohberger, was called to a meeting with faculty members to discuss growing concerns about his behavior, according to the record, a timeline the university prepared in justifying its decision to terminate him. The meeting was part of a series of discussions over Mr. Kohberger’s conduct during his criminology studies at Washington State University, which lies about seven miles west of the University of Idaho.
The faculty’s concerns with Mr. Kohberger grew in the weeks after the Nov. 13 killings, though he had not yet been identified as a suspect. They culminated in the criminal justice department’s unusual decision to terminate Mr. Kohberger from his teaching assistant role in December, shortly before his arrest, according to three people familiar with his time at the university and a formal letter to Mr. Kohberger informing him that he had failed to meet the conditions required to maintain his funding under the program.
The faculty made the decision at the department’s end-of-year meeting in December, during which professors were also told that some female students reported that Mr. Kohberger had made them feel uncomfortable. In one of those instances, Mr. Kohberger was accused of following a female student to her car, according to two people familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
In the case of the female students, the university’s investigation did not find Mr. Kohberger guilty of any wrongdoing, two people said, and it was other matters that prompted the decision to eliminate his funding and remove him from the teaching assistant job. That decision, they said, was based on his unsatisfactory performance as a teaching assistant, including his failure to meet the “norms of professional behavior” in his interactions with the faculty.
Mr. Kohberger began having troubles about a month into the fall semester, his first at Washington State. He had an “altercation” on Sept. 23 with John Snyder, the W.S.U. professor he was assisting, according to the termination letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.
Then, on Nov. 2, department leaders met with Mr. Kohberger to discuss an improvement plan, the letter recounts. Eleven days later, the four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death overnight in a home just off campus in Moscow, Idaho.
In the termination document, officials described a second “altercation” that Mr. Kohberger had with the professor after the killings, on Dec. 9. Later that month, the department decided to remove him from his position as a teaching assistant, cutting off his pay and saying that he “had not made progress regarding professionalism.”
Phil Weiler, a vice president and spokesman for W.S.U., said a federal student privacy law prohibited him from commenting in detail on Mr. Kohberger’s history with the university. He said only that Mr. Kohberger was no longer enrolled at the university. Mr. Kohberger’s lawyer did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday.
Mr. Kohberger is being held in jail after being charged with four counts of murder; he has said through a lawyer that he looks forward to being exonerated.
The Times previously reported that students had complained about Mr. Kohberger’s harsh grading in his teaching assistant role, resulting in a classroom discussion in which he sought to defend the feedback he provided the students.
Mr. Kohberger had entered the program at W.S.U. after earning a master’s degree in June at DeSales University, in Center Valley, Pa., not far from where he had spent his teenage years struggling with emotional problems and drug addiction.
Records show that after the initial altercation with the professor on Sept. 23, Mr. Kohberger met with a university official to “discuss norms of professional behavior.” By Oct. 21, a professor emailed him about “the ways in which you had failed to meet your expectations as a T.A. thus far in the semester.” Some of the details of Mr. Kohberger’s troubles and eventual firing were first posted online by an Arkansas woman who has closely followed the case.
The Idaho students were found stabbed to death in two bedrooms of the home on Nov. 13. Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, both 21, were found in one room, while Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin, both 20, were found in another, according to a police affidavit. The three women all lived in the home, the police have said, and Mr. Chapin was visiting Ms. Kernodle, his girlfriend. The police said that the killings took place around 4 a.m.
For weeks after the killings, investigators did not identify a suspect. Records show that Mr. Kohberger was still working in his teaching assistant job at the time, and was continuing to grade undergraduate students’ papers.
About a week after his second altercation with the professor, as the semester was drawing to a close in mid-December, Mr. Kohberger began driving across the country with his father to the family’s home in Pennsylvania.
Officials notified Mr. Kohberger of his termination on Dec. 19, according to the university timeline. He was arrested at the end of the month. The authorities cited D.N.A. that appeared to link him to a knife sheath found at the crime scene, video showing a white car in the neighborhood of the crime scene that resembled Mr. Kohberger’s car, and phone records indicating that Mr. Kohberger’s phone disconnected from the cell network during those key early-morning hours.
A judge has scheduled a June preliminary hearing, where prosecutors are set to lay out more of their evidence.