Lauren's parents, Jill and Matthew McCluskey, students, staff, family and friends attend a vigil on the steps of the Park Building for Lauren McCluskey who was tragically killed on campus at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

Jill and Matthew McCluskey, parents of murdered University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, have released a statement disagreeing with the school’s assertions that their daughter’s death could not have been prevented and urging discipline for employees who they believe failed to protect her. This comes following Wednesday’s release of results from independent investigations into the university police department and the state’s justice system. Those investigations found significant problems, but U president Ruth Watkins concluded that, “This report does not offer us a reason to believe that this tragedy could have been prevented.”

The McCluskey parents disputed that, writing, “We respectfully disagree with the conclusion that Lauren’s murder could not have been prevented. 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.” They continued, “The situation cries out for accountability beyond updating policies and training and addressing [UPD] understaffing by hiring five new department personnel.”

Students, staff, family and friends attend a vigil on the steps of the Park Building for Lauren McCluskey who was tragically killed on campus at The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Lauren McCluskey was murdered on the evening of Oct. 22 outside her dorm by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Shawn Rowland — a sex offender who was under parole.

After dating for about a month, McCluskey ended their relationship on Oct. 9 when she discovered he had lied about his name, age and criminal history. The next day, both Jill and Lauren McCluskey spoke with UPD about having security escort Lauren to retrieve her car from Rowland. In Jill and Matthew’s statement, they wrote that Jill “explicitly stated” she believed Rowland was dangerous and that someone might hurt Lauren. Lauren was given a security escort to retrieve her car. This call was not linked to Lauren’s later contacts with police. Her parents wrote, “If the information had been linked, it is reasonable to assume that her case would have been given a higher priority and her murder might have been prevented.”

On Oct. 12, McCluskey contacted UPD saying that anonymous individuals were sending her harassing text messages. The messages said that Rowland was dead and blamed the death on her. Some asked if she wanted to attend Rowland’s funeral. Others told her to “go kill yourself.” McCluskey told police she didn’t believe Rowland was dead, but expressed concern that “his friends are trying to lure her into a trap for some reason,” according to the police report. Police told her they couldn’t do anything because nothing criminal had occurred. It’s now believed that these messages originated from Rowland himself, not his friends.

The next day, McCluskey received a message from Rowland stating that intimate pictures of the two of them would be posted online if she didn’t send him $1,000. She told police she was scared and made the payment. Following this report, Officer Miguel Deras obtained Rowland’s criminal history and sent it to the detective assigned to the case, Kayla Dallof. This is when police became aware Rowland he had been convicted on charges of enticing a minor over the internet and forcible sex abuse. No officer attempted to discover whether Rowland was on parole.

McCluskey’s parents noted that, when their daughter called police on Oct. 13 to report the blackmail threats, there seemed to be no recognition that the events were related to earlier contact with police. “In fact, each of the several times that Lauren called the police, it was like the first time,” they explained. “The person that Lauren would speak to indicated no knowledge of who Lauren was, why she was calling, and apparently had no knowledge of any accumulating record of her issues, requests, or complaints. […] Lauren was asked to frame her concerns anew, repeatedly respond to the same list of questions, and fill out the same forms.”

Dallof did not begin to officially work on McCluskey’s case until Oct. 19. The independent investigation into UPD’s actions concluded this is because the police department is understaffed and employees are overburdened. That review noted, however, that McCluskey spoke with an officer over the phone 18 times between the Oct. 13 and 19. She also called the Salt Lake City Police Department twice, her parents said, due to the lack of response from UPD. Both calls were redirected to UPD.

The morning of McCluskey’s murder — Oct. 22 — she received a text message from someone claiming to be UPD Deputy Chief Rick McLenon. The message asked her to come to the police station on campus. McCluskey emailed Dallof about it. Dallof was not on duty and did not read the email until after McCluskey’s death. McCluskey also called Deras about the message. He missed three calls from her before calling her back. He told her the message was fake and not to answer it. According to McCluskey’s parents, this officer “did not report this alarming attempt at luring Lauren from her residence to anyone.” They continued in their statement, “This information was a major red flag, and this final inaction by the [UPD] was fatal. The fact that Deras did not report this to McLenon, or to anyone at all, is inexplicable and indefensible.” They called it “an unforgivable lapse of judgement and professional competency.”

It was just hours later that Rowland shot McCluskey to death with a gun borrowed from a friend, who cooperated with police. Rowland was then picked up by a woman he met online. They went to dinner and traveled to her house, where Rowland showered. Police later spotted him in downtown Salt Lake City. They pursued him into Trinity AME Church, where he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police reported on Oct. 25 that they do not anticipate either of these individuals will face charges.

Officials announce the results of two independent investigations into the University of Utah’s police department and the State justice system after the on-campus murder of student Lauren McCluskey. Pictured from left to right: President Ruth Watkins, former Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen, Executive Director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Sue Riseling, former Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires, and current Public Safety Commissioner Jess L. Anderson. | Photo by Elise Vandersteen Bailey

Among other problems, the independent review into UPD’s actions noted the failure to link the calls on Oct. 12 about McCluskey’s car to her other contact with police, and attribute the police’s failure to recognize the danger McCluskey was in to insufficient training in domestic violence. Solutions to these problems are among its recommendations, which U officials pledged to address. It also noted Deras’ decision not to report the message impersonating McLenon, but made no recommendations to address this.

Although the report noted, “There were shortcomings both systemically and individually,” U officials said the university will not discipline any individuals following the reviews.

McCluskey’s parents disagreed with this decision, saying, “If the University of Utah is serious about following the report’s recommendations, it is essential that the individuals who failed our daughter be held accountable for neglecting her numerous, persistent attempts to seek help, and be disciplined appropriately.”

A statement from the U said, “The University of Utah has received and reviewed Jill and Matthew McCluskey’s response to the independent review. The university has also shared the family’s response with members of the review team. The university is committed to implementing the recommendations made in the report.”

Jill McCluskey has previously said on Twitter that, “The person who lent Lauren’s killer the gun needs to be prosecuted.” Rowland was a felon and could not legally possess firearms. Newly-elected Utah lawmaker Andrew Stoddard agrees and has proposed legislation that would increase civil liability for individuals whose guns are used to commit crimes after they either let someone borrow the weapon or fail to securely store it.

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@EliseAbril

Elise Vandersteen Bailey
Elise is the Investigative Editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. In her almost four years at the paper, she has won nearly 20 awards from professional journalism organizations. She currently attends graduate school at the U, studying Public Policy and Population Health Sciences, and spends her free time wondering whether it's too nerdy to Tweet whatever "cool" graph she's found most recently.

3 COMMENTS

  1. What do you expect when a flower associates with a weed? Her parents, especially her father, are living with a lot of guilt. Lauren chose to walk down a path of darkness. Chances are she would never have found a nerd engineer white-guy or a return Mormon missionary exciting. Her parents should have taught her and if they did, did she listen? Obviously not.

  2. I wonder if the parents encouraged the bi-racial dating due to all the current media hype on “racism” and “white privilege” and sub-consciously encourage it so they don’t “look racist”? It seems that women and men are being encouraged to date outside their own people, without being told the statistics of such relationships, which evidence show have more conflict, violence, and bad endings.
    Young people need to take more time and thought in who they are going out with and sharing intimate details with. Too many of these cases abound today, and both women and men are being encouraged to date outside their own race because to be white now days is somehow being linked as morally degrading, with devastating results.

  3. Lewis Sprague: Your comments related to the needless murder of Lauren McCluskey are reprehensible. You have blamed her needless death on the victim, Lauren. Reading your comments it is easy to conclude that in your opinion, had Lauren been a good Mormont girl, she would be alive today. Sir, you are a shameless bigot without an ounce of compassion or empathy for the victim and family of this tragedy. You are a disgrace to the Mormon Church and all the goodness and wisdom our Heavenly Father blessed upon our church.

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