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Surviving roommate of slain Idaho students said she saw the killer, affidavit says

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One of the surviving roommates who lived in the house where four University of Idaho students were killed told investigators she almost came face to face with a masked man that night and was entered a “frozen shock phase”, a response from medical experts. rare in potentially threatening situations.

Police initially said surviving housemates Dylan Mortensen and Bethany Funke were supposed to sleep through the stabbings, but unsealed court records Thursday revealed that Mortensen, identified as a DM in an affidavit, met the suspect while ran away from home in Moscow, Idaho.

Brian Kohberger, a criminology doctoral student at nearby Washington State University at the time, was charged with four counts of murder in the November death of 21-year-old Madison Mogen; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20.

Top left, Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle.

According to the affidavit, Mortensen “described the figure as 5’10” or taller, male, not very muscular, but athletic with bushy eyebrows. The man walked past DM as she stood in a ‘frozen shock phase’. The man walked to the back sliding glass door. DM locked herself in her room after seeing the man.

Nearly eight hours later, around noon, authorities were called from a cellphone belonging to one of the housemates, according to court documents. We didn’t know who made the call.

What has been described as a “frozen shock phase” could stem from a number of acute traumatic responses, such as dissociation and tonic immobility, which are typically elicited in stressful scenarios, experts said Friday.

It boils down to the basic human response of fight, flight or freeze when people believe they might be threatened, said Dr. Judith F. Joseph, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the Grossman School of Medicine. New York University at NYU Langone Health.

“When your body is in shock and you think you’re going to die or you think you’re in a threatening situation, adrenaline makes your sympathetic nervous system skyrocket and take off, and you may feel a frozen state. where consciously you know what’s going on, but then a coping mechanism allows you to disassociate,” Joseph said.

People who experienced it said they felt like they were not part of their body, a state brought on by traumatic shock, she said. “People can dissociate for hours, especially if they’ve been through severe trauma,” Joseph said, adding that their mind wanders to another place to get away from the trauma or fear.

Mortensen and Funke have described in statements the pain they felt after the loss of their friends and roommates.

“My life has been impacted greatly by knowing these four beautiful people,” Mortensen wrote, “my people who changed my life in so many ways and made me so happy.”

Mortensen said he heard Goncalves playing with his dog around 4 a.m. and then shortly after heard his roommate say, “There’s someone here,” according to court documents.

Then, she said, she heard crying from Kernodle’s room and a male voice saying “something like ‘it’s okay, I’ll help you,’” according to the affidavit.

Based on forensic evidence and interviews, investigators believe the four victims were killed between 4 a.m. and 4:25 a.m.

At 11:58 a.m., a 911 call was made from the cell phone of one of the surviving housemates asking for help for an “unconscious person,” according to court documents.

“It’s possible that what happened with her was that she went into a state of dissociation and was just a little confused and shocked and didn’t really understand what was going on,” said said Dr. Akeem Marsh, clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University Grossman. NYU Langone Health School of Medicine, referencing Mortensen.

“In these states, the mind really shuts down to protect itself.”

Marsh said a person could have “no sense of time, so many hours could have passed, and you don’t even know what happened until you finally come back to reality and realize that something has happened”.

These are all responses to traumatic shock, he said, that could impair cognitive abilities, including decision-making. He said survivors may continue to experience symptoms of shock, which may linger for weeks after the trauma, especially as their awareness of what happened increases.

Emily Dworkin, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said another common response triggered by Mortensen’s “frozen shock phase” could be tonic immobility, a state similar to paralysis.

“You’re kind of completely closed off while still being able to encode what’s going on, so you’re still actively processing what’s going on in the environment, but your ability to respond to it is shut down,” she said. declared.

The tonic stillness can last for hours in some people, she says.

“Although you can still remember what happened, you can’t act in response to that environment, so you can’t fight, you can’t run away, maybe you can do small things , but a lot of those larger responses to a threat are sort of shut down,” she said.

Dworkin pointed out that any speculation about the mindset “interprets it through the lens of what we know now” versus what Mortensen knew at the time.

“There are many possible interpretations of his perspective on what was happening at that time,” she said.

“Being someone living in a house with college-age roommates with guests coming in and out, it’s probably not uncommon to hear noises and see people you don’t recognize early in the morning,” said she declared.

“Hearing a strange noise or seeing a man you don’t recognize can be startling but not necessarily out of the realm of normal, and a lot of people would sort of think they’re overreacting and talk themselves out of it. they were scared. There are different things that could work with his frozen state, and I think all of them would be reasonable.

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