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Christians offer comfort after University of Idaho killings

Police and the community are still seeking answers

A flyer, buttons, and bracelets on a table during a vigil in memory of stabbing victims in Moscow, Idaho. Associated Press/Photo by Ted S. Warren, file

Christians offer comfort after University of Idaho killings

When Martin Trail met with University of Idaho Sigma Chi fraternity students the day after a quadruple homicide, he shared how he coped after his father was shot and killed almost eight years ago.

Trail, an elder at Bridge Bible Fellowship in Moscow, Idaho, is a chapter adviser for his old fraternity. He encouraged the 20 to 30 students present that night to spend time with people they are close to and to know when they need a break and some time alone. “Half these guys, they were [Ethan Chapin’s] roommates, you know? And all of a sudden, their roommate’s gone, and they’ve got all his stuff there—and what do they do?”

The 25,000 residents of Moscow are still reeling from the Nov. 13 killing of four students in a community that hasn’t seen a murder since 2015. That was the year a gunman killed Trail’s father, David Trail, and two other people.

Law enforcement officials seem stymied by the early morning attack at a home where three of the students lived. An unknown assailant likely stabbed Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Kaylee Goncalves while they slept.

University officials canceled class the Monday after the murders, and Dean of Students Blaine Eckles said faculty members would “work with” any students who didn’t feel ready to return to class that Tuesday. The school bolstered its security presence and also announced that students could opt to complete the semester online if they didn’t want to remain on campus.

While authorities quickly assured the public there was no continuing threat, Chief of Police James Fry admitted days later that he couldn’t guarantee that. Many residents adjusted their routines for safety: A Moscow coffee shop closed early, and the university continues to promote its free, 24-7 Safe Walk service for students, faculty, and visitors.

Kirk Brower, the senior pastor at Trail’s church, said community members hope for justice but worry the perpetrator could still be in town. The church sits about two miles from the campus. In such a small community, Brower said everyone has some connection to the tragedy. “Everybody’s familiar with the road and location,” he said. “Whether you lived in a fraternity or, ‘Hey, my aunt was in the sorority of the house where those girls were murdered,’ you know, there’s all those kinds of connections, aside from just being close to campus.”

Bridge Bible Fellowship offers free counseling services provided by counselors trained by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Brower said the church reached out to the university’s dean of students, as well as student ministries, to offer counseling help.

Brower added that some groups have unique needs right now. “There’s a large international student contingency that doesn’t get to go home,” he said. Some church members visit or write to the local police department to encourage Moscow officers and outside law enforcement agents who came to town because of the tragedy.

After news broke about the Idaho students’ deaths, a friend texted Trail a verse from 2 Corinthians about how affliction prepares people to comfort others. “I felt prepared by God in a way,” Trail said.

Trail plans to meet a fraternity student after work on Tuesday. “I just said, ‘Hey, can I buy you a burger? Let’s talk,’” he said, adding that he had a “gut feeling” the student wanted to talk. “And that's been my prayer for these guys, that this would help them maybe face their own mortality, face that they’re not really in control … and turn to God.”

Lauren Dunn

Lauren covers education for WORLD’s digital, print, and podcast platforms. She is a graduate of Thomas Edison State University and World Journalism Institute, and she lives in Wichita, Kan.


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