One of the surviving roommates who lived in the house where four students from the University of Idaho were killed told investigators that she nearly came face-to-face with a masked man that night and went into a “frozen shock phase,” which is a response that medical professionals have said is not uncommon in potentially threatening situations.
Court records that were unsealed on Thursday revealed that Dylan Mortensen, who is identified in an affidavit as D.M., confronted the suspect as he fled the house in Moscow, Idaho, where the stabbings took place. Initially, the police stated that they believed the surviving roommates, Bethany Funke and Dylan Mortensen, were asleep during the stabbings. However, they later changed their statement to reflect the new information.
Madison Mogen, age 21, Kaylee Goncalves, age 21, Xana Kernodle, age 20, and Ethan Chapin, age 20, all passed away in the month of November. Brian Kohberger, who was a doctoral student in criminology at the nearby Washington State University at the time, has been charged with four counts of murder in connection with their deaths.
Mortensen “identified the figure as 5’10” or taller, masculine, not extremely muscular, but athletically built with bushy eyebrows,” as stated in the affidavit. D.M. was standing there in what she described as a “frozen shock phase” when the man went by. The man started moving in the direction of the back sliding glass door. After viewing the male, D.M. went back to her room and locked the door.
According to the court documents, a call to the authorities was placed on a cellphone that belonged to one of the roommates around eight hours and forty minutes later, at noon. There was no indication of who had placed the call.
Experts noted on Friday that what was termed the “frozen shock phase” could fall under any one of a number of acute trauma reactions, including dissociation and tonic immobility, both of which are regularly induced in situations are stressful.
According to Dr. Judith F. Joseph, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University Grossman School of Medicine at NYU Langone Health, “it boils down to the basic human response of fight, flight, or freeze when people fear they could be under attack.”
“When your body is in shock and you think you’re going to die or you think you’re in a threatening situation, adrenaline surges your sympathetic nervous system and takes off. As a result, you may experience a frozen state in which consciously you are aware of what is happening, but then a coping mechanism for you is for you to dissociate,” Joseph said.
She explained that individuals who have had this experience have described the feeling as though they were not a part of their bodies. This is a state that can be brought on by traumatic shock. According to Joseph, “People may dissociate in and out for hours, especially if they’ve gone through extreme trauma,” and he said that their brains wander to another location in order to get away from the pain or fear they experienced.
Mortensen and Funke both made comments in which they discussed the anguish they felt following the death of their friends and roommates.
Mortensen noted in her journal that having the opportunity to know “these four wonderful people” had a significant impact on her life. She called them “my people,” describing them as those who had “changed my life in so many ways and made me so happy.”
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