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Bryan Kohberger's high school friends say the accused killer was overweight and bullied

The Idaho Student Murders
The Idaho Student Murders 40:44

Before his arrest on December 30, 2022, Bryan Kohberger was studying for his Ph.D. in criminology and was a teaching assistant in the Department of Criminal Justice at Washington State University. He lived in an on-campus apartment, roughly eight miles from the scene of the brutal murders of four University of Idaho students that he now stands accused of.

Kohberger already had a bachelor's degree in psychology, and a master's degree in criminal justice from DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. While at DeSales, a user on the website Reddit who identified himself as Bryan Kohberger posted what appears to be a university-approved survey, asking ex-convicts questions about the crimes they committed. In one of those questions, participants were asked to share their "thoughts, emotions and actions from the beginning to the end of the crime commission process."  

Now Kohberger faces four charges of first-degree murder.

Bryan Kohberger
At the time of his arrest, Kohberger was listed as a Ph.D. criminology student and teaching assistant at Washington State University's Pullman campus, which is a short drive from Moscow, Idaho, where the four  University of Idaho students were murdered in November 2022. Alamy

Benjamin Roberts was in four classes with Kohberger at Washington State. Roberts spoke with "48 Hours'" correspondent Peter Van Sant for a report on this case titled "The Idaho Student Murders," airing Saturday, Jan. 7 at 10/9c on CBS and streaming on Paramount+.

Roberts told Van Sant that Kohberger "seemed comfortable around other people. He was very quick to offer his opinion and thoughts." Roberts also says Kohberger appeared to be highly intelligent, "He would describe things in the most complicated, perhaps academic way possible," said Roberts. 

"Trying to impress people?" Van Sant asked. 

"It was like he was trying to convince people that he knew what he was talking about," replied Roberts.

"This is out of character for Bryan, these allegations," said Monroe County public defender Jason LaBar, who represented Kohberger at his extradition hearing in Pennsylvania. LaBar has spent time with Kohberger's parents and two older sisters and says, "The family wants the public to know that Bryan is a caring son and brother, that's he's responsible, that he is devoted to them."

Kohberger has not yet entered a plea in this case, but his family has provided the following statement: "First and foremost we care deeply for the four families who have lost their precious children. There are no words that can adequately express the sadness we feel, and we pray each day for them. We will continue to let the legal process unfold and as a family we will love and support our son and brother. We have fully cooperated with law enforcement agencies in an attempt to seek the truth and promote his presumption of innocence rather than judge unknown facts and make erroneous assumptions. We respect privacy in this matter as our family and the families suffering loss can move forward through the legal process."

Kohberger grew up in eastern Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains, where his father was a maintenance worker. His mother worked in the school system. He has two older sisters, Melissa and Amanda — and, back in 2011, Amanda, now a school counselor, appeared in the low-budget slasher film "Two Days Back," about a group of young students viciously murdered by a serial killer. 

Bryan Kohberger in high school
Friends say in high school, Kohberger was overweight and was bullied. But that changed in his senior year, when Kohberger lost about 100 pounds and "a lot of people noticed a huge switch in him," said friend Casey Artnz. Yearbook photos

Two high school friends of Bryan Kohberger's, Casey Arntz and a young woman named Bree, who asked to have her last name kept private, agreed to talk with "48 Hours." The women say Kohberger was overweight and was bullied a lot in high school, until his senior year, when he lost about 100 pounds. 

Casey Arntz says, "He was rail thin," and "It was after that weight loss that a lot of people noticed a huge switch." Arntz says her brother, who was also friends with Kohberger, claims he was bullied by him. "When Bryan would get kinda angry with him, he would gaslight him and get physically aggressive," she said, and added that Kohberger would put her brother in chokeholds. Bree claims that Bryan started using heroin. "You just saw him becoming more self-destructive," she said. "He really stayed secluded."

Both Bree and Casey Arntz say years after graduating high school, it appeared as if Kohberger was sober and getting his life together. He was attending Pennsylvania's Northampton Community College and working security for the Pleasant Valley School District. "He was telling me that he wanted to get sober, that he was getting sober," says Bree, "And he wanted to let me know, 'I'm gonna do better. I'm gonna be better.'" 

Bryan Kohberger at a friend's wedding in 2017. Casey Arntz

The last time Casey saw Kohberger was in 2017 at a friend's wedding. "And I gave him a hug and I said, 'You look so good. I'm so proud of you.'" Both Bree and Casey say it appeared that Kohberger had a new focus, his studies in criminology. "His goal was just to change the world for the good around him. He wanted to do something that impacted people in a good way," says Bree. "People were not his strong suit," she added, "And I think through his criminology studies, he was really trying to understand humans and trying and understand himself."

In the fall of 2022, investigators say Kohberger applied for an internship with the Pullman Police Department in Washington State. In an essay he wrote that he had interest in assisting rural law enforcement agencies with how to better collect and analyze technological data in public safety operations.

Now Bree, like many who knew him, struggles to connect the person they once knew to this unspeakable crime, "Where did it go wrong? What happened? … Why didn't I see it?"

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