Bryan Kohberger devoted his life to studying crime. The Idaho murders have turned the tables

 (via Reuters)
(via Reuters)

Four years before the vicious murders of four University of Idaho students, the man now charged with taking their lives was lauded for helping save another.

Bryan Christopher Kohberger had been working as a part-time security officer for Pleasant Valley School District, where his mother was on staff, when a hall monitor – a grandmother – began having trouble breathing and losing consciousness. Security guard Luis Fuentes, according to the Pocono Record, dispatched Mr Kohberger to retrieve the school AED as fellow staffers and emergency personnel attended to their coworker.

Disaster was averted – but the incident still made the local paper in small-town Pennsylvania, where Mr Kohberger grew up with his parents, Michael and Maryann, and two sisters, Amanda and Melissa. It would mark one of the few times that Bryan Kohberger’s name would surface online – until he was arrested on 30 December for the murders of Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21.

Speculation and rumour had swirled exponentially for nearly seven weeks before Mr Kohberger’s arrest, as conspiracists and armchair detectives painted all manner of pictures of the students’ then-unknown killer. But the tall, skinny, bushy-eyebrowed PhD student handcuffed by police seemed to catch everyone off guard as he was led around timidly and stared blankly in his mugshot.

He’s familiar with mugshots. He’s spent years of his life studying them.

Most of Mr Kohberger’s college courses have focused on criminality and the mind, though careers in education with an emphasis on psychology run in the family. His mother worked as a paraprofessional at Pleasant Valley School District and was beloved by students, by all accounts – the type of woman who tells a former pupil that they can always call her after the death of a parent. Her two daughters, both older than Mr Kohberger, both studied psychology at East Coast schools before finding work in the field. Melissa is a therapist in New Jersey, while Amanda is a counselor in Pennsylvania.

The Kohbergers lived for years in Effort, an unincorporated community in Monroe County with a population of under 2,500 just minutes from Pleasant Valley School District, where the children also graduated from high school. Michael Kohberger was a maintenance worker and the family seemed unremarkable in the quiet community 90 miles north of Philadelphia; Bryan used to mow the neighbours’ lawn.

He was overweight and bullied in high school - then lost 100 pounds in his senior year, and more than just his appearance changed, according to friends.

 "He was rail thin," Casey Arntz, who hung around in the same group as Mr Kohberger, told 48 Hours. "It was after that weight loss that a lot of people noticed a huge switch."

She says Mr Kohberger bullied her brother, a member of the same social circle, at times even putting her sibling in chokeholds: "When Bryan would get kinda angry with him, he would gaslight him and get physically aggressive,” she said.

Her brother, Thomas, told The Daily Beast that Mr Kohberger liked to point out his “flaws and insecurities” and would do so “all the time.”

“He would go after my intelligence,” the 26-year-old said. “He would basically insinuate that I’m kind of slow-witted and that I’m forgetful and [that] I lack the intelligence to be his friend.”

That aggressive streak was described by other friends, as well. Nick McLoughlin, 26, attended classes at both Pleasant Valley High School and Monroe Count’s vocational school with Mr Kohberger, telling The Daily Beast the murder suspect had been interested in becoming a police officer and took criminal justice courses.

His interest in law enforcement was apparent, one former teacher told the outlet, describing Mr Kohberger as “passionate about criminal justice.”

“He was just a regular 12th grader, had a few friends, was a good student,” she said. “I thought he would become a police officer or correctional officer ... He liked to watch movies about police, and ask me the next day if I’d seen it. It was more than a hobby for him, he was always asking questions.”

In addition to criminology, Mr Kohberger had a new interest after the weight loss, Mr McLoughlin said: Boxing.

“He always wanted to fight somebody,” he said. “He was bullying people. We started cutting him off from our friend group because he was 100 percent a different person.”

Mr Kohberger’s changing behaviour included drug abuse, another friend, Bree, told 48 Hours - claiming that he began using heroin. She said that “people were not his strong suit.”

"You just saw him becoming more self-destructive," said Bree. "He really stayed secluded."

Following high school, however, many believed Mr Kohberger seemed to be doing better. He told Ms Antz that he went to rehab, according to The Daily Beast, and he earned an associate of arts degree in psychology from Northampton Community College in 2018.

“He was telling me that he wanted to get sober, that he was getting sober,” Bree told 48 Hours, “And he wanted to let me know, ‘I’m gonna do better. I’m gonna be better.’”

Ms Arntz last saw Mr Kohberger at a wedding in 2017, where she gave him a hug and told him, “You look so good. I’m so proud of you,” she told 48 Hours.

Mr Kohberger continued his studies at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in criminal justice last year. Teachers and classmates have described him as bright, focused and nearly obsessive about criminology.

Michelle Bolger, an associate professor at DeSales, taught Mr Kohberger and described him as a “great writer” and “brilliant student.”

“In my 10 years of teaching, I’ve only recommended two students to a PhD program and he was one of them,” she told theDaily Mail. “He was one of my best students, ever. Everyone is in shock over this.”

Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, took this photo together hours before they died (Instagram/Kaylee Goncalves)
Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, took this photo together hours before they died (Instagram/Kaylee Goncalves)

Mr Kohberger left a different impression, however, on staff members at a brewery in the same town as the university. Jordan Serulneck, 34, owns Seven Sirens Brewing Company and told NBC News that female staff complained about the suspect, who often sat alone at the bar, “observing and watching.”

Staff noted that Mr Kohberger made “creepy comments ... he’ll have two or three beers and then just get a little too comfortable.” Mr Serulneck said that Mr Kohberger once called a female worker “a b----” and, if women did not respond to his attentions to his liking, “he would get upset with them a little bit.”

When he politely confronted Mr Kohberger, he denied any inappropriate behaviour and didn’t come back, Mr Serulneck said.

After Mr Kohberger’s graduation from DeSales, he left Pennsylvania and crossed the country to pursue a PhD at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, just across the state border from the University of Idaho in Moscow. He was also a teaching assistant in WSU’s department of criminal justice and criminology.

There, he “sort of creeped people out,” fellow grad student B.K. Norton told The New York Times, describing a quiet, intense demeanor; she alleged he made comments about the LGBTQ community that made some uncomfortable.

“He stared and didn’t talk much, but when he did it was very intelligent and he needed everyone to know he was smart,” Ms Norton said.

Another WSU grad student in the programme with Mr Kohberger, Benjamin Roberts, echoed her sentiments about the suspect’s academic arrogance.

“He would describe things in the most complicated, perhaps academic way possible," Mr Roberts told 48 Hours, elaborating: "It was like he was trying to convince people that he knew what he was talking about.”

Mr Kohberger lived in an unassuming Pullman apartment complex and, while studying and working as a TA, was also continuing to pursue his dream of working in law enforcement. The affidavit unsealed on Thursday by Idaho courts revealed that Mr Kohberger applied to an internship with the Pullman Police Department during the autumn.

Bryan Kohberger, left, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022, looks toward his attorney, public defender Anne Taylor, right, during a hearing in Latah County District Court on Thursday (AP)
Bryan Kohberger, left, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022, looks toward his attorney, public defender Anne Taylor, right, during a hearing in Latah County District Court on Thursday (AP)

“Kohberger wrote in his essay he had an interest in assisting rural law enforcement agencies with how to better collect and analyze technological data in public safety operations,” the affidavit states. The department did not respond to The Independent’s request regarding whether Mr Kohberger ever got the internship.

He was committed, it seems, to thoroughly exploring the inner workings of the criminal mind, posting a survey to Reddit that “asked for participants to provide information to ‘understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision making when committing a crime,’” the affidavit continues.

Mr Kohberger seemed fastidious about his efforts to understand the inner workings of the criminal mind - and reportedly applied that same attitude to his diet. A former aunt told the New York Post that Mr Kohberger’s food regime was “very, very weird” and went “above and beyond being vegan.” Relatives had to “buy new pots and pans because he would not eat from anything that had ever had meat cooked in them,” she said, adding that he seemed “very OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder].”

Following the UI murders, classmates say, Mr Kohberger continued attending classes - and “seemed more upbeat and willing to carry a conversation,” Ms Norton told the Times.

Mr Kohberger drove cross country with his father in a white Hyundai Elantra, getting stopped twice in Indiana, before returning to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania. He was arrested there on 30 December and charged this week with four counts of murder in connection with the UI students’ deaths.

His lawyers have claimed Mr Kohberger is innocent and wants to clear his name. His family released a statement expressing their condolences to the victims’ families while urging a presumption of innocence on othe part of their son as social media erupted in a frenzy upon news of the arrest.

Many in Mr Kohberger’s orbit expressed shock at his alleged involvement in the crime; others from his past were not so sure.

“He was mean-spirited,” Thomas Arntz told The Daily Beast. “He was a bully. I never thought he would do something like that, but at the same time it doesn’t really surprise me.”