(Scripps News) — College graduation is a time of excitement and new beginnings, but in Moscow, Idaho, the week has been quiet.
“I haven’t seen as much excitement for this graduation, compared to the previous years,” said Paige Erbele, who graduated from the University of Idaho and stuck around Moscow for work. She says there’s a cloud over this year’s celebration, falling exactly six months to the day since four University of Idaho students were brutally murdered.
Two of the victims, Maddie Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, were seniors and should be walking with their classmates. “It’s just a really, really touchy subject that the town is very, very sensitive to right now,” Erbele added.
The house is still boarded up and patrolled by security 24/7. It is a stark reminder not only of the tragedy, but of the month-and-a-half-long manhunt that left so many shaken.
“The murders in November really sent a shock to the whole system,” said Architecture Professor Phil Mead. “We just paid more attention. We were all, very much, more cautious.”
“I used to sometimes leave my door unlocked and be like, ‘Whatever, Moscow is a safe town. Nothing’s going to happen.’ And, of course, I don’t have the luxury of thinking like that anymore,” Erbele explained.
Mead says he’s been encouraged by the extra security that is still in place, but says the fact that the man accused of the crime, Bryan Kohberger, is housed in jail just a few blocks away, keeps the chill here.
“I mean, the courthouse is right up there. So just thinking, you know, every once in a while I have to drive by it,” Erbele continued.
Scripps News spoke with at least a dozen students, and their concern is the continued microscope on their tiny town. Many are still shaken by what happened. “I think it was a traumatic experience. We were all there for each other, but I also think that there is a sense of the outside world having a spotlight on the small town that you love,” said Sara Sullivan. “It was hectic. It was scary.”
Sullivan is a native Californian, who went to Idaho because that’s where her mom went to school. She says it’s a tight-knit school, full of students with deep roots. “Fellow students have really stepped up support, and positive support and really making sure you keep not only the victims, families in mind, but like their houses and things,” she said.
Students say the school has been incredibly understanding and supportive throughout the year.
The school, the families, the Greek houses where the victims were members, the restaurant where two of the victims worked have all been hesitant to make any statements that could impact their healing and the pending trial.
But students in Greek life told Scripps News they’ve made checking in on each other’s mental health a focus. After all, this case — and conspiracy theories surrounding it — became prevalent on social media. “There was a lot of ‘He said, she said’ and people were coming after your fellow students and things, and professors who were completely innocent. And you were like, ‘That’s not true. I know these people,'” Sullivan said.
The murders defined this year, but the students say they are determined for people to know the goodness that exists in the community. “We’ve gotten through it. I think we’ve come out stronger as a community as a whole,” Sullivan shared.
There’s a level of anxiety knowing that the spotlight will soon be on their tiny college town, once again. Kohberger has not yet entered a plea for his burglary and four murder charges. He’s due back in court on June 26.
This story was originally published by Scripps News, an E.W. Scripps Company.