Lauren McCluskey’s friends became deeply worried when the University of Utah college student began expressing deep distress related to a relationship with an older man earlier this year. They spoke to university officials about it. McCluskey herself reached out to the university and police multiple times. But nobody stopped the man who eventually killed her, two new reports reveal.
On Oct. 22, the 21-year-old senior was fatally shot by 37-year-old Melvin Rowland in a parking lot outside a residence hall. After a short police chase on foot, law enforcement said Rowland was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot.
A convicted sex offender who spent over a decade in prison, Rowland had lied to McCluskey about himself, attempted to keep her from her friends and at one point tried to extort money from her.
Her friends, family and McCluskey herself had all reached out to authorities for help multiple times, according to reports released earlier this month from the Utah Department of Public Safety and the University of Utah Department of Public Safety.
But not enough was done to keep the 3.7 GPA student and standout track athlete safe.
The following account is drawn from the two reports.
On Sept. 30, two of McCluskey’s friends spoke to a university resident adviser to say they were “very concerned that Lauren is in an unhealthy relationship with an older man who was controlling her,” according to the university’s report. The friends sought help days after McCluskey told them she was sad because Rowland, whom she had met just a month prior at a sports bar, would no longer let her “hang out with friends.”
The university ultimately decided not to “overstep” in its actions unless McCluskey specifically asked for help.
More than a week later, McCluskey broke off her relationship with Rowland after discovering that he had lied about his name, age and criminal history. He told her that he simply had “many identities,” according to the university’s report. Following the breakup, Rowland sent her a text suggesting she “go kill yourself.”
On Oct 10, McCluskey’s mother called university dispatch and sounded “very upset and worried” that her daughter was going to try to get her car back from Rowland. A campus security officers accompanied McCluskey to retrieve the car and no major incident took place.
Two days later, McCluskey began receiving texts claiming that Rowland was in the hospital or dead. She believed this to be a trap and contacted the University Department of Public Safety, which ultimately decided there “was not much that could be done,” according to the state’s report. She called again the next day, Oct. 13, this time to report that Rowland was threatening to release embarrassing images of her publicly if she didn’t pay him $1,000.
That same day, she also made a 911 call to the Salt Lake City Police Department about the extortion. They referred her to the university’s public safety department, who assigned a detective to the case and took a report from McCluskey. The university police told her it would be a difficult case because the messages she had received came from different numbers and email addresses.
On Oct. 15, McCluskey saw her on-campus counselor.
On Oct. 19, she made another 911 call to the Salt Lake City police again hoping to get an update. Those calls, obtained by KUTV, reveal that McCluskey was worried that campus police were not responding fast enough to her problem.
According to the state’s report, McCluskey had received an email from an unknown person saying, “We know everything!”
“I’m worried because I’ve been working with the campus police at the U and last Saturday I reported and then, I haven’t gotten an update. But someone contacted me today, someone who ... said that they know everything about the police,” McCluskey said in the 911 call on Oct. 19.
On Oct. 22, she contacted university police again after she received a text from an unknown number in which someone claiming to be a university police detective asked to meet her. She went to see her on-campus counselor again.
Later that night, her father called police to report that his daughter was missing. “She was abducted while she was on the phone with us,” Matt McCluskey told dispatch.
Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, told KUTV that she was on the phone with her daughter, who was walking home just before 9 p.m., when she heard her daughter shout, “No, no, no!”
“That was the last I heard from her,” Jill McCluskey said.
The 21-year-old was found dead that night.
In its report, the university concluded that it had “identified gaps in training, awareness and enforcement of certain policies rather than lapses in individual performance.” The report added that “we will never know that this tragedy could have been prevented without these deficiencies.”
McCluskey’s parents disagree.
“We respectfully disagree with the conclusion that Lauren’s murder could not have been prevented,” Jill and Matthew McCluskey wrote in a statement to KUTV. “There were numerous opportunities to protect her during the almost two weeks between the time when our daughter began expressing repeated, elevating, and persistent concerns about her situation and the time of her murder.”