News about the stabbings of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, Maddie Mogen, Xana Kernodle, and Ethan Chapin had slowed to a trickle after a judge imposed a gag order on Jan. 3, barring investigators, prosecutors, and defense attorneys from commenting on the case.
But last week, People, which regularly covers true crime in addition to celebrities and entertainment, broke two explosive stories about the man charged with the students’ murder.
The first story, published on Jan. 17, said that Bryan Kohberger had “repeatedly messaged” one of the women victims on Instagram, citing an unnamed “investigative source.” The messages were sent from what People said was Kohberger's Instagram account, which the outlet said it had viewed “before it was removed,” and that he had been following the accounts of Goncalves, Mogen, and Kernodle.
The vaguely identified “investigative source” — a law enforcement official risking their career by violating the gag order? a private detective? a family lawyer digging into the case? — told People that the victim never replied to Kohberger and may not have even seen his messages, but the story spread like wildfire. It seemed to be the first time a connection had been established between Kohberger and the victims and could suggest a motive for the seemingly inexplicable crimes.
The next day, the judge amended the gag order, instituting sweeping restrictions to include attorneys representing victims, victims' families, and witnesses. (Since then, 22 news organizations have formed a coalition to protest the order and ask that it be narrowed.)
On Jan. 19, People published another story drawing a link between the suspected killer and the victims: Kohberger came into the Mad Greek restaurant where Mogen and Kernodle worked at least twice to order vegan pizza, it reported. The source, the article said, was an unnamed former employee at the restaurant, who remembered Kohberger because of his concern over whether his food had “come into contact with animal products.” People reported that an unnamed “investigator familiar with the case” had said that police were “aware of the restaurant visits.”
But Jackie Fischer, the owner of the Mad Greek, lambasted People for not doing its “due diligence” and “running a story with completely fabricated information. … It is not true,” she said in a Jan. 20 Facebook post.
“This person who wants their 5 minutes of fame has now caused a whole bunch of extra work for myself and the investigators,” Fischer said, exhorting people to “please don’t believe everything you read.” She said she and her staff have been repeatedly harassed by reporters and “internet sleuths” constantly calling and appearing at the restaurant. “We have not been afforded the time to grieve,” she said. “Please stop calling, messaging, knocking and showing up. I personally will not be doing any interviews or entertaining wild accusations at this time. My employees also feel the same!”
BuzzFeed News asked People about Fischer disputing the reporting in the Mad Greek story and whether the outlet was sure its unnamed source was reliable.
In response, a People spokesperson said, "PEOPLE stands by its reporting."
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