Lauren McCluskey, a senior track standout at the University of Utah and a scholar, was identified as the student who was murdered on campus by a registered sex offender she briefly dated before discovering he had lied about his past and his name.
Her mother, who is a professor at another university, released a moving statement that described how Lauren was on the phone with her while walking home after a night class; suddenly, she shouted, “no, no, no” and the call cut off. The victim was remembered as a record-breaking athlete and accomplished student who was planning to graduate in May 2019.
Authorities have now released a detailed timeline in the case that reveals Melvin Rowland was trying to extort McCluskey. You can read it here.
The suspect was named as Melvin Rowland, and he’s accused of shooting the female student to death in a car on the University of Utah campus. McCluskey had previously reported Rowland to the university police department for harassment, authorities revealed in a news conference. That case was open at the time of her death.
The shooting broke out on the evening of October 22, 2018, and it caused a lockdown and search for the shooter, who initially fled on foot. Rowland was located deceased by authorities and is no longer considered a threat, according to the university and news reports. He killed himself after forcing his way into a church.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Lauren McCluskey Was an ‘Accomplished Student Athlete’ With a 3.75 GPA
The university released a statement confirming – and mourning – the death of Lauren McCluskey.
“It is with tremendous sadness that I share the news that Lauren McCluskey, an accomplished student athlete who came to the University of Utah from Pullman, Washington, was killed Monday night on our campus,” the University of Utah wrote.
“Lauren was a highly regarded member of the university’s track and field team and an outstanding scholar, a senior majoring in communication.”
Lauren’s mother said in a statement that Lauren McCluskey “was a senior student athlete on the University of Utah track team. She was an outstanding student with a 3.75 GPA majoring in Communication and was excited to graduate in May 2019. She was a 2015 honors graduate of Pullman High School where she was Washington state champion in the high jump and the school record holder in the 100 meter hurdles. She attended Capital Church in Salt Lake City. She loved to sing and had strength and determination. She was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.”
On Facebook, Lauren wrote that she lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she was a student. She went to Pullman High School and Andrews Osborne Academy. Her top post on Facebook thanked people for birthday wishes. She did not have many publicly visible posts. One post from 2017 read, “Please take a 5 minute survey on your social media use for my communication research class.”
In 2011, she declared on Facebook, “I got tickets for a Demi Lovato concert in New York City next month!” That same year, she wrote, “I am going to the Whitman County Humane Society volunteer orientation today. Is anybody else going?”
The athletic director also offered a tribute to Lauren McCluskey.
“Lauren was a proud Ute heading into her senior year,” said Athletic Director Mark Harlan. “An incredible student.” He said that the university’s student athletes were gathering and “we will honor her….we will do everything for the rest of the year in Lauren’s memory.”
2. The Family of Lauren McCluskey Says That Rowland Lied to McCluskey About His Criminal History
Lauren’s mother paints a chilling narrative about the weeks leading up to the murder. She says that Lauren discovered that Rowland had lied to her about everything from his name to his criminal record and then started a campaign of harassment against her. On Facebook, Jill McCluskey says she is an economics professor at Washington State University and the mother of two children.
In a statement, Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, wrote, “Lauren previously dated her killer for about one month. He lied to her about his name, his age, and his criminal history. Lauren was informed by a friend about his criminal history, and she ended the relationship with her killer on October 9, 2018.”
The statement continues, “He had borrowed her car, and she requested for the University of Utah police (to) accompany her on October 10, 2018 to get the car back. She blocked his and his friends’ phone numbers and complained to University of Utah police that she was being harassed. Last night a little before 9 p.m., she was returning to her university apartment from her night class and talking to me on the phone. Suddenly, I heard her yell, ‘No, no, no!’”
Lauren’s mother says, “I thought she might have been in a car accident. That was the last I heard from her. My husband called 911. I kept the line open and in a few minutes, a young woman picked up the phone and said all of Lauren’s things were on the ground.”
The university has reached out to McCluskey’s devastated family.
“Several members of our university administration spoke with Lauren’s family last night and I have also reached out to them. Her family is understandably in shock at this news about their daughter. They are heartbroken. We have and continue to offer our full support to them at this terrible time,” the university said in the statement.
“We have canceled day and evening classes for Tuesday, Oct. 23, to allow our campus community to grieve the senseless loss of this bright, young woman. We have made our counseling and support services available to students, staff and faculty.”
The university continued: “The Associated Students of the University of Utah and our Athletics Department are planning a vigil for Lauren on Wednesday at 5 p.m. on the steps of the Park Building. I will be joining them to pay my respects and offer my support to Lauren’s friends, family and the entire campus community.”
The shooting death came almost a year after another U of U student was shot and killed. Police say Rowland and the victim had a “previous relationship.”
The University of Utah confirmed early on that there was a shooting on campus on the evening of October 22, 2018 and released a suspect description. The campus was placed on lockdown, but the secure-in-place was later released as authorities believed Melvin Rowland left the campus area. He was later found deceased.
“SECURE-IN-PLACE LIFTED FOR CAMPUS Police believe suspect has left campus and is no longer a threat to campus. Continued police activity throughout the night. Please avoid the Medical Towers area,” the university wrote on Twitter.
3. Melvin Rowland Is a Registered Sex Offender & Police Say They Were Working on a Harassment Complaint Against Him by McCluskey
The sex offender registry gives the following details of his background:
• Description: 76-4-401 – ENTICING A MINOR/2ND DEGREE FELONY
• Date Convicted: 07/19/2004
• Conviction State: Utah
• Release Date: 09/03/2013
• Description: 76-5-404 – FORCIBLE SEXUAL ABUSE-ATTEMPTED/3RD DEGREE FELONY (attempted)
• Date Convicted: 07/19/2004
• Conviction State: Utah
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the minor enticement case involved the Internet. The Associated Press spoke to the prosecutor in the above cases. He told AP that Rowland was arrested after a police officer “posed as a 13-year-old girl” online; later, a woman alleged Rowland raped her after meeting her online, AP reported.
“He was just out of control. He had no self-control,” the prosecutor told AP.
There was an open investigation into Rowland at the time of McCluskey’s death; she had reported him to authorities for harassment, according to the university police chief, speaking in a news conference. University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy declined to provide many details about the previous complaint.
“We did have a case that was a police report filed on October 12 and the 13. There was some follow up. It was assigned out to a detective. The detective had been in contact with Miss McCluskey, and they were working to build a case against our suspect at that time,” said Brophy.
He added, “We’re not going to discuss the details of those cases at this point in time.”
He continued, “We don’t have a correct address for him. He was a walk away from Fortitude, which is a halfway house here. Didn’t have a correct address for him at that particular time.”
Brophy said that the way it works is that they take a police report and then it’s forwarded to an investigator, who reaches out to the victim. He says that happened in this case.
Asked if the harassment was severe enough where the university police provided protection for her, he said, “I’m not going to divulge those details at this point in time.”
He said authorities would provide everything they have on the situation once the investigation is complete.
“We suspected it may be a boyfriend once we found out Miss McCluskey was deceased. We were able to identify who that boyfriend was and place him at the scene,” said Brophy.
Rowland was once the registered agent for a company called ANDRONICUS, LLC. Its status expired after failure to file renewal. It was a company involved in “staffing medical assistants, RNs and CNAs” and was located near campus.
4. Lauren McCluskey Was Found Shot to Death in a Car
The October 22, 2018 call came in as a possible kidnapping. According to KUTV, the victim was found shot to death in a car. Authorities initially characterized the shooting as stemming from a dispute.
“I wish we didn’t have to be here today…At about 8:30 p.m., we received a phone call from a frantic mother telling us something happened to her daughter,” Brophy said in a news conference. “We immediately sent officers to the area.”
Officers were on scene in several minutes, and McCluskey was found deceased in the back seat of a vehicle. A large manhunt was ignited, he said.
“We learned the suspect had gotten off the campus in a vehicle. He was picked up,” the chief said. He was located downtown by the police. A foot pursuit ensued. The suspect ran into a church and took his own life, he said.
“Our thoughts and prayers are going out to the parents of Miss McCluskey…I can’t even fathom what they are going through right now,” Brophy said.
According to Lori McDonald, the dean of students, “It is with tremendous sadness and a heavy heart that we are here today.”
“Lauren was an outstanding student scholar,” she said. “The trauma of last night’s event has clearly impacted our entire campus community.”
According to the Salt Lake Tribune’s Courtney Tanner, “U. Police Lt. Brian Wahlin says the suspect is Melvin Rowland. Rowland and the woman reportedly had ‘a dispute’ before the shooting. She was found inside a car outside the dorms.”
“U of U ALERT: Shooting on campus. Secure-in-place. More info to come,” U of U initially wrote on Twitter. This tweet was followed by a suspect description: “Suspect: Black male, 37 years old, 6’3″, 250 lbs, wearing a gray beanie, black pants, white shoes and a white hoodie. He was last seen on foot leaving NB from the medical towers.”
The university also tweeted, “Shooting suspect still on foot. Secure-in-place. Updates on http://highalert.utah.edu . Next update 11p.”
Gephardt Daily reported that the victim was a female who was “found in the parking lot with multiple gunshot wounds and is deceased.” The shots were fired around 9 p.m., the news site reported.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that police were surrounding one specific vehicle.
The university sent out an emergency alert titled “shooting on campus.” Rowland was then discovered dead.
5. People Expressed Fear & Shock on Social Media
The shooting death of such a promising young woman – on the campus itself – has shattered people’s sense of security.
One Twitter user wrote, “all my friends at the U, stay safe and stay in place. for anyone not at the U, this is the second shooting in less than a year there and every time I’m scared to death that the victim is one of my friends. I hope you don’t ever have to feel this way.”
“Last year I was a senior in high school, and heard about the shooting… Today I’m a freshmen at the #UniversityOfUtah and I’m on lockdown… I really hope it doesn’t become a tradition,” wrote another student.
In 2017, a student was killed and a massive manhunt was underway after a shooting at the University of Utah on October 30. The victim was Chinese national ChenWei Guo, a computer science student.
This article is being updated as more information is learned about the 2018 shooting.