Parents of slain Utah student discuss daughter’s death

This Aug. 21, 2018 photo, provided by the University of Utah, shows Lauren McCluskey, a member of the University of Utah cross country and track and field team. McCluskey, a University of Utah student was shot and killed on campus by a former boyfriend Melvin Rowland, who was found dead hours later inside a church Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, authorities said. (Steve C. Wilson/University of Utah via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The parents of a University of Utah student killed by her ex-boyfriend have said their formerly shy daughter was brimming with confidence and excited to graduate before she was fatally shot on campus last year.

Jill and Matt McCluskey told the Deseret News newspaper in Salt Lake City that 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey planned to move to a warmer place like San Diego after her scheduled graduation in May.

But, she was killed before she could begin her final semester. Authorities have said 37-year-old Melvin Rowland killed her on Oct. 22, 2018 — after the track athlete broke off her brief relationship with Rowland when she learned he had lied about his name, age and criminal history.

She reported to campus police that Rowland, a sex-offender who had spent time in prison, started harassing and extorting her after she broke up with him. Her friends reported Rowland’s controlling behavior to dorm staff nearly a month before the shooting, but that warning never made it to police.

Jill McCluskey of Pullman, Washington, said her daughter seemed infatuated with Rowland after meeting him at a bar where he was a bouncer. She had only had a few boyfriends and Rowland charmed her with roses and dinner dates.

He had told Lauren McCluskey he was 28 and studying to get a computer science degree while working part-time as a bouncer.

Even before they found out about his criminal past, Jill McCluskey said she had some concerns about the age difference between the two but decided not to interfere too much because she was wary of her tendency to be a “helicopter parent.”

After the breakup and the reports her daughter made to police, Jill McCluskey said she called campus police asking for help for her daughter.

Minutes before she was shot, Lauren McCluskey was on the phone with her mother and told her she was doing well.

Her daughter’s last words in that phone conversation were, “no, no, no” and sounds of distress.

Authorities have said that was the moment Rowland grabbed her, shoved her into the back seat of her car and shot her.

An independent investigation the University of Utah ordered to review how campus police handled the case found multiple missed warning signs before the shooting. The report said understaffing and lack of training was to blame. No one was disciplined.

University president Ruth Watkins has pledged to implement a series of recommendations made by investigators — including additional training for campus police to recognize signs of dating and domestic violence and the hiring of a victim advocate. But Watkins said there’s no reason to believe Rowland, whom she called a “master manipulator” could have been stopped.

Jill McCluskey and her husband, Matt, disagree. They want the university to be held accountable and have vowed to use their daughter’s death to shed light on campus dating violence.

“They found an amazing number of failings, and then for them to say, we’re going to implement all these changes, but it wouldn’t have made any difference in preventing Lauren’s murder? It’s a very convenient, legal fiction, and blatantly false,” Matt McCluskey said.

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