Update: Mother of slain U of U student says suspect lied about name, age, criminal history

Lauren McCluskey, 21, a senior and a rising track star, was identified Tuesday morning as the victim. Photo Courtesy: Facebook

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Oct. 23, 2018 (Gephardt Daily) — The family of the University of Utah student shot and killed on campus Monday evening has released a statement saying the suspect lied to their daughter about his name, age, and criminal history during their month-long relationship.

Lauren McCluskey, 21, a senior and a rising track star, was identified Tuesday morning as the victim.

The accused shooter, 37-year-old Melvin Shawn Rowland, was found in the early hours of Tuesday at a Salt Lake City church, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police say that Rowland, a registered sex offender, had a relationship with the victim.

A statement from Lauren McCluskey’s mother Jill reads:

“It is with deepest sadness that we let you know that our daughter Lauren McCluskey, age 21, was the University of Utah student who was killed last night. 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 Oct. 9, 2018. He had borrowed her car, and she requested for the University of Utah police accompany her on Oct. 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!” 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.

Lauren 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 the 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.”

U of U President Ruth Watkins also released a statement:

“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.

“Lauren was a highly regarded member of the university’s track and field team and an outstanding scholar, a senior majoring in communication.

“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.”

Lauren McCluskey. Photo: University of Utah/Steve C. Wilson

University of Utah classes are canceled for Tuesday, “to allow our campus community to grieve the senseless loss of this bright, young woman,” the statement says. “We have made our counseling and support services available to students, staff and faculty.”

Mark Harlan, U of U athletic director, also released a statement:

“Last night, the University of Utah lost one of our own. 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.”

Utah track and field coach Kyle Kepler issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon:

“Everyone associated with our program is devastated by the loss of Lauren. There are no words to express the emotions and grief we are experiencing right now. Lauren was a wonderful person, an excellent student and a dedicated member of our track and field team. She showed a relentless drive to improve every day over the last three-and-a-half years and was always kind and supportive of her teammates. Those are just some of the reasons why her loss has hit us so hard.”

The Associated Students of the University of Utah and the Athletics Department are planning a vigil for McCluskey on Wednesday at 5 p.m. on the steps of the Park Building. Watkins’ note said she will attend.

“I will be joining them to pay my respects and offer my support to Lauren’s friends, family and the entire campus community.”

Handwritten notes for McCluskey’s family are being accepted at the vigil and also at the Office of the Dean of Students, 270 Union Building.

A memorial fund has been established by the U to honor the McCluskey’s memory. Her family has suggested funds collected could support future scholarships for student-athletes in track and field.

A condolence page set up by the U can be found here.

The crime scene

Just before 9 p.m. Monday, police responded to reports of shots fired on campus and began searching the north parking lot, where an officer found McCluskey’s body in a vehicle. She had been shot multiple times, police said.

University officials sent out several notices throughout the night, declaring a lockdown of the campus and urging students to shelter in place and keep doors locked for their safety, while police searched the entire campus with canines, fearing that the shooter was still in the area.

Melvin Shawn Rowland. Photo: Salt Lake County

Within a few hours, police had identified Rowland as the suspect. According to Utah court documents, Rowland was found guilty in March 2004 of attempted forcible sex abuse which occurred September 15, 2003. That charge was amended from a first-degree felony to a third-degree felony. He also was found guilty of enticing a minor over the Internet, a second-degree felony.

The university lifted the secure-in-place order a little before midnight, after police determined that Rowland had fled the area in a vehicle.

They were able to track him to the vicinity of a church, Trinity AME Church, at 239 E. 600 South, Salt Lake City. He had forced his way inside through the back door, according to a U of U Police spokesman. He was found deceased inside of the main chapel, just beyond the front doors.

The University of Utah has been sharing updates with students through a campus alert website.

Gephardt Daily will have more on this story as additional information becomes available.

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