After four University of Idaho students were killed in a gruesome attack last November, their families had to wrestle with grieving under the public eye as the case garnered national attention.
They chose to take different paths when it came to that type of publicity.
Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, were stabbed to death at a house near the U of I campus in Moscow in the early morning hours of Nov. 13. Bryan Kohberger, 28, a Pennsylvania native studying criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University, was arrested in December and has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
The Goncalves family has given dozens of interviews and said it conducted its own investigation into the killings, and it hired an attorney, Shanon Gray, who has been active in a gag order fight. Chapin’s mother has written a children’s book about him and went on NBC’s “Today” show last year. Mogen’s family got matching tattoos in her honor and joined with the Goncalves family in filing a precursor to a lawsuit against police, the university and others.
The Kernodles, however, remained mostly out of the public eye, asking for privacy when approached by media outlets. That changed over the weekend, when Jazzmin Kernodle and Jeff Kernodle — sister and father of the victim — sat down for an interview for a CBS ”48 Hours” episode that aired Saturday.
“She cared about people,” Jeff Kernodle said. “She was a people person. She cared about her friends just as much as her family.”
Jazzmin, 22, described Xana as “fun” and “uplifting,” someone who “took any bad situation and turned it into a good one.”
“My sister Xana Kernodle was one of the happiest, funniest people I’ve ever met,” Jazzmin said. “I had the awesome privilege of growing up with her.”
The two sisters were often mistaken as twins and remained “best friends” until her death, according to CBS. They had planned to launch a marketing business together.
“She would have been my maid of honor, and I probably would have been hers,” Jazzmin said. “It’s sad to have to go through those moments without her.”
Father and sister remember ‘worst day’
Jazzmin was a senior at Washington State University in Pullman — the same school where Kohberger was a graduate student — and lived just 15 minutes away from her sister, the CBS report pointed out.
Jeff had been visiting Jazzmin for her college’s “Dad’s Weekend” on Nov. 12-13. After he left on that Sunday, Jazzmin began getting phone calls from Xana’s friends saying “something bad” had happened at the house on King Road.
Jazzmin said she quickly got in her car and called both her sister and Chapin, who was dating Kernodle, over and over as she drove to Moscow. She also called her father.
“I hear crying, crying and just telling me to get back to Moscow and meet at Xana’s house,” Jeff said. “My heart drops instantly and I race back down there.”
After they arrived, law enforcement quickly took them to a police station.
“The worst day of your life, your worst nightmare, just happened,” Jeff said. “What do you do? You can’t do a damn thing.”
Jazzmin said she is “still coming to terms” with the death of her sister.
“I’ve had some dreams of her,” Jazzmin said. “There’s times where I prayed and asked God to see her another time, and I did. It just gives me peace knowing that she’s OK.”
Some families fight to get cameras in courtroom for trial
Defense attorneys for Kohberger have requested that the judge ban cameras from the courtroom, saying news coverage could threaten his right to a fair trial.
Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson also has asked the judge to remove cameras during the testimony of “a number of young and vulnerable witnesses,” according to court documents.
The Goncalves family and members of the Kernodle family have gone against those wishes, stating that they do not want camera restrictions, including at trial. Several media outlets, including the Idaho Statesman, have filed suit to maintain cameras in the courtroom.
“This case is surrounded by secrecy,” said a statement issued to the Idaho Statesman by Gray, the Goncalves’ attorney, on behalf of his clients and unnamed members of the Kernodle family. “Everything is either sealed or redacted. … No one knows anything about the case which leads to speculation. That speculation is fueled by the secrecy surrounding everything that is filed and every hearing that is closed off to the media and the public.
“… So it is vitally important that the trial be viewed publicly! It is important to the victims’ family, relatives, community members and the public that this veil of secrecy be lifted at trial. This not only ensures accountability for all the parties involved but also helps the public maintain its faith in the justice system!”