Lauren McCluskey, the University of Utah track and field athlete who was found shot to death Monday night in a car outside a campus residence hall, had broken off her relationship with the prime suspect when she discovered that he was a registered sex offender.
Melvin Rowland, 37, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a church near downtown Salt Lake City and McCluskey’s mother told university police that he had been harassing her 21-year-old daughter since their Oct. 9 breakup.
University police chief Dale Brophy said in a Tuesday news conference that officers could not find Rowland in the days leading up to the shooting and added that Rowland had walked away from a halfway house for parolees. However, a Department of Corrections official told the Salt Lake Tribune that officials knew where he was living. The official added that university police had not passed along information that McCluskey had accused Rowland, who had repeatedly been returned to prison for parole violations, of harassing her.
"We have no notification of any of that,” Kaitlin Felsted, a spokeswoman for the DOC, told the Tribune, and the department he had been living at the Salt Lake City address listed on the sex offender registry.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, McCluskey’s mother, Jill, described her daughter’s final moments.
“[Monday] 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,” she said. “Suddenly, I heard her yell, “No, no, no!” 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.”
University police responded to a report of a possible abduction about 8:20 p.m., and after reports of gunshots, they discovered McCluskey’s body around 1:30 a.m. in a car parked outside the south tower of the Medical Plaza.
Jill McCluskey detailed Rowland’s harassment in her statement.
“He lied to her about his name, his age, and his criminal history,” she said in the statement obtained by Shara Park of KSL-TV. “Lauren was informed by a friend about his criminal history, and she ended the relationship with her killer on October 9, 2018. He had borrowed her car, and she requested for the University of Utah police 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.”
Police did not comment on how Rowland obtained the gun and was asked whether enough had been done to protect McCluskey. “I want the answer to that question as well,” Brophy said, “and when we have it, I’ll share it with you.”
Rowland was described by Felsted as being “not fully compliant” with his parole, but his violations were not serious enough to warrant an automatic return to prison. “He was working with his agent to get through those” violations, Felsted said.
Lauren McCluskey, a senior from Pullman, Wash., who was majoring in communications, competed in the pentathlon and heptathlon. According to her team bio, she ranks 10th all-time at Utah in the pentathlon (3,181 points) and was a named Pac-12 all-Academic team honorable mention in 2017. Her mother said she was set to graduate in May and had a 3.75 grade-point average.
“Last night, the University of Utah lost one of our own,” Utah Athletic Director Mark Harlan said in a statement. “Senior track standout Lauren McCluskey was tragically killed in a senseless act. This news has shaken not only myself but our entire University of Utah athletics family to its core. We have university counselors and psychologists on standby to support Lauren’s teammates, coaches and friends. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and all of those dear to her.”
The school canceled classes Tuesday in the wake of the shooting.
According to Watkins, university police received a report of a possible abduction in a parking lot outside a residence hall at around 8:20 p.m. local time Monday night, with students reporting that they heard an argument and then gunshots. McCluskey’s body was found inside a parked car near the south tower of the Medical Plaza, a residential hall on campus. Police then placed the campus on lockdown as they searched for Rowland, who was identified as a suspect in a university alert that was issued at 12:01 a.m. At 1:47 a.m., the school ended the lockdown, saying Rowland “has been located and is no longer a threat.”
KSL-TV reports that police learned Rowland was near Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, about four miles west of campus near downtown Salt Lake City. Officers spotted him and pursued him on foot until he forced his way into the church through a back door. They found him inside, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
According to the Utah sex offender registry, the 37-year-old Rowland was convicted of enticing a minor and forcible attempted sexual abuse, both felonies, in 2004. The Tribune reports that he had been adopted by what one parole hearing officer described as an older couple who died when he was young and was placed in a group home when he was young. He then was sent to a Boulder, Colo., school and earned a high school diploma or certificate. After spending time in a Buddhist institute in Berkeley, Calif., he enrolled in JobCorps in Clearfield, Utah, according to one parole hearing. He later attended Salt Lake County Community College and the University of Utah.
In one hearing cited by the Tribune, he said he was a “womanizer” who lied to women to get them to have sex with him and, during treatment, he said he was attracted to underage girls and vulnerable women.
“I’d say every woman I met or that I came across I used my manipulation tactics to get what I wanted,” Rowland said in a 2012 hearing.
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