Murders of 4 University of Idaho students may not have been a targeted attack, police say, retracting an earlier statement

Police investigating the grisly murders of four University of Idaho students have retracted an earlier statement and now say it is not known whether the residence where the bodies were found or its occupants were «specifically targeted.»

Friends Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; and Xana Kernodle, 20; and her boyfriend Ethan Chapin, 20, were found fatally stabbed in an off-campus home in Moscow, Idaho, on November 13, and their killer remains a mystery.

The Latah County Prosecutor’s Office had previously stated that the «suspects specifically looked at this residence» and «one or more of the occupants was undoubtedly attacked.» On Wednesday, the Moscow Police Department said it was a «lack of communication».

«Detectives do not currently know if the residence or the occupants were targeted specifically, but are continuing to investigate,» police said.

Flowers are laid at a makeshift memorial honoring four slain University of Idaho students in Moscow, Idaho.Tim Stelloh/NBC News

NBC News has reached out to the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office for clarification on his statement.

Moscow police also previously described the killings as «a targeted attack» carried out with a «sharp weapon» on November 15, two days after the bodies were found. The researchers have not disclosed their basis for that initial conclusion.

It has been nearly three weeks since the murders, described by a local coroner as one of the most «gruesome» he has ever seen, leaving families and the public with many questions.

This is not the first time that Moscow’s police force of 36 officers and staff in the largely rural city of nearly 26,000 residents has issued mixed messages in the case.

Another point where the police have backed down is if there is a threat to the community.

In the hours after the victims’ bodies were discovered at their private residence half a block from the university, Moscow police told the public that while «no one is in custody,» the department «does not believe there is an ongoing risk to the community.»

Two days later, the officials went on to say that there was «no imminent threat.»

But that changed the next day: “We cannot say that there is no threat to the community,” Moscow Police Chief James Fry said at a Nov. 16 news conference.

These unclear answers may have given whoever fatally stabbed the students more time to flee, law enforcement experts say.