A professor in Idaho is fighting back against what she says are a Texas TikTok personality’s baseless accusations linking her to the horrific slayings of four University of Idaho students as they slept. The TikToker’s posts have made the professor and her family fear for their lives, the lawsuit claims.
Rebecca Scofield, an associate professor and the chair of the history department at the University of Idaho, has sued Ashley Guillard, a Texas-based social media commentator, for defamation in a federal complaint filed earlier this week.
She says that Guillard — whom she has never met — has falsely linked her to the violent stabbing deaths of Xana Kernodle, her boyfriend Ethan Chapin, and Kernodle’s roommates Maddie Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, as they slept in their Moscow house on Nov. 13.
“Defendant Ashley Guillard — a purported internet sleuth — decided to use the community’s pain for her online self-promotion,” Scofield’s complaint says. “She has posted many videos on TikTok falsely stating that Plaintiff Rebecca Scofield (a professor at the University) participated in the murders because she was romantically involved with one of the victims.”
“Guillard’s statements are false,” the complaint continues. “Professor Scofield did not participate in the murders, and she had never met any of the victims, let alone entered a romantic relationship with them.”
“Professor Scofield did not commit or in any way participate in the murders of the four students,” the lawsuit later says.
Guillard, the complaint says, “promotes herself on Amazon and TikTok as an Internet sleuth that solves high-profile unsolved murders by consulting Tarot cards, and performing other readings, to obtain information about the murders.” Guillard reportedly has claimed to solve the murders of Migos rapper Takeoff, as well as other high-profile cases, according to the lawsuit.
In her videos, Guillard has said that Scofield ordered the execution of the four students after planning their murders, the lawsuit claims. In at least one video, Guillard said that Scofield and a University of Idaho student, identified in the complaint only as J.D., planned the murders together.
“Professor Scofield has not met student J.D. and has not ever had him in a class,” the complaint says. “She has never partnered with him on anything. She did not partner with him to murder the four University of Idaho students.”
“Guillard’s false TikToks have damaged Professor Scofield’s reputation,” the lawsuit says. “They have caused her significant emotional distress. She fears for her life and for the lives of her family members. She has incurred costs, including costs to install a security system and security cameras at her residence. She fears that Guillard’s false statements may motivate someone to cause harm to her or her family members.”
The complaint also alleges that Scofield has suffered damages because Guillard’s “false TikToks” have been viewed “millions of times and widely reposted by other TikTok users.” As University of Idaho policy prohibits romantic relationships between professors and students, Scofield says that her reputation and career at the university was further damaged as a result of Guillard’s actions, and that she was been “subject to online ridicule and threats from Guillard’s online commenters.”
It is unclear why Guillard has set her sights on Scofield. The complaint repeatedly says that the two have never met and notes that the professor wasn’t in the state when the victims were killed.
“Professor Scofield was not in Moscow, Idaho, when the murders occurred,” the complaint says. “She and her husband were in Portland, Oregon, visiting friends. They stayed in a hotel, checking out in the morning on November 13, after the murders occurred. They drove from Portland to Moscow, a drive of more than five hours, arriving after law enforcement had discovered the murders.”
According to the complaint, Guillard did not stop after lawyers for Scofield sent a cease and desist letter on Nov. 29, and in fact continued to post accusatory videos after that, even as her own viewers told her that she was making false claims.
“Many TikTok users warned Guillard that her statements were false and that she was defaming Professor Scofield, among others,” the complaint says. “Guillard did not stop making false and defamatory TikToks despite being warned of their falsity multiple times by persons commenting on her TikToks.”
“Equally concerning, other TikTok users commented that they believed Guillard’s false statements that Professor Scofield ordered the murder of [the victims], that Professor Scofield was romantically involved with [Goncalves], and that they have wondered when Professor Scofield would be brought to justice,” the complaint continues.
Scofield has taught at the University of Idaho since 2016 and became chair of the history department in July 2021, the complaint says. The lawsuit also notes that none of the four victims ever took a class from Scofield, and she does not recall ever meeting any of them.
Guillard, for her part, has said on TikTok that she is aware of the lawsuit and appears to actually welcome it.
“I am actually gleaming with excitement,” she said in a video posted on Friday, adding that she is looking forward to putting her version of events on the record in court.
Guillard also said that she’s not afraid of a legal battle.
“People just don’t get it, like I’ve been against people big and small, corporations and giants and systemic policies [and] racism and won,” said Guillard, who is Black, in a video posted on Friday. “They all regret coming against me. All of them.”
“Now Rebecca is going to be added to that list of regretful people,” Guillard added.
Scofield’s lawyers insist unequivocally that Scofield has no connections whatsoever to the victims.
“The statements made about Professor Scofield are false, plain and simple,” Scofield’s lawyer Wendy Olson said in a statement emailed to Law&Crime. “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. Professor Scofield twice sent cease and desist letters to Ms. Guillard, but Ms. Guillard has continued to make false statements, knowing they are false. Thus, this lawsuit became necessary to protect Professor Scofield’s safety and her reputation.”
The University of Idaho, while not involved in the litigation, criticized the accusations against Scofield.
“Speculation and rumors do not help the investigation or the families,” Kyle Pfannenstiel, a spokesperson for the university, said in a statement emailed to Law&Crime. “While this lawsuit is a private matter, U of I does not condone spreading false information and finds this particular allegation to be one of the worst we have seen.”
Scofield is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys fees and costs.
First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams — father of Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams — said that the lawsuit does not appear to be frivolous.
“On the face of it, Professor Scofield’s libel claim appears to be a serious one,” Abrams said. “There may or may not be valid defenses to it, but the fact that the charges were made on the Internet is certainly not one of them.”
University of Pennsylvania constitutional law expert Kermit Roosevelt told Law&Crime that Guillard’s videos could potentially do serious damage to Scofield’s reputation.
“If you’re doing this publicly and you’re disseminating your speech to millions of people, potentially, you could be causing massive reputational harm, and the things that are being said on these TikToks are certainly defamatory,” Roosevelt said. “They’re allegations of involvement in a crime and allegations of professional misconduct, so there’s a potential for very serious reputational harm. You can’t just say that about someone if it’s not true, and I know of no evidence suggesting that it is true. So there’s very significant potential defamation liability for the speaker here.”
Investigators have not made any arrests in the killings.
Read the lawsuit here.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from the University of Idaho.
Angenette Levy and Sam Goldberg contributed to this report.
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