A University of Idaho professor who says she’s been wrongly accused of ordering the unsolved killings of four college students last month is alleging defamation in a federal lawsuit filed this week against the self-described internet sleuth who posted the accusations on TikTok.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Idaho District Court by history department chair Rebecca Scofield, accused TikTok user Ashley Guillard of falsely claiming that the professor had planned the killings with another University of Idaho student.
The videos began appearing on the platform Nov. 24 and have been viewed millions of times, according to the suit, which says Guillard claims to solve high-profile murders using Tarot cards and by “performing other readings.”
The lawsuit appears to be the latest example of what one expert called “dangerous” speculation surrounding the quadruple homicide in Moscow, Idaho, on Nov. 13.
Authorities haven’t identified any suspects in the killings of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, nor have they found a murder weapon, which police have said they believe to be an edged weapon, such as a knife.
The Moscow Police Department had previously called out what it described as misinformation “stoking community fears and spreading false facts” in the case. The department includes a “rumor control” section on its website under frequently asked questions about the case.
The department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
According to the suit, Scofield, who began working at the university in 2016, never met the slain students, nor had any of them ever taken a class with her. The suit says she was with her husband in Portland, Oregon, visiting friends when the students were killed.
After a lawyer for Scofield sent a cease and desist letter to Guillard on Nov. 29, she kept posting what the suit calls defamatory videos. After sending a second cease and desist letter on Dec. 8, Guillard showed the document in a TikTok video and said Scofield would need to “file actual legal documents in a federal court” asking her to remove them, the suit says.
A week and a half later, Guillard posted more than 20 videos claiming falsely that Scofield had been involved with one of the students and ordered the killings to conceal the relationship, the suit says.
“Professor Scofield has never met Guillard,” the suit says. “She does not know her. She does not know why Guillard picked her to repeatedly falsely accuse of ordering the tragic murders and being involved with one of the victims. Professor Scofield does know that she has been harmed by the false TikToks and false statements.”
The suit adds that the allegations triggered significant emotional distress and damage to Scofield’s reputation.
“She fears that Guillard’s false statements may motivate someone to cause harm to her or her family members,” the suit says, adding that she recently installed a security system at her home.
In an email to NBC News, Guillard reiterated her allegations against Scofield.
Wendy Olson, an attorney representing Scofield, responded to NBC News Saturday saying, “The statements made about Professor Scofield are false, plain and simple. What’s even worse is that these untrue statements create safety issues for the Professor and her family. They also further compound the trauma that the families of the victims are experiencing and undermine law enforcement efforts to find the people responsible in order to provide answers to the families and the public.”
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