In the wake of the fatal shooting of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey on campus Monday evening, the University of Utah will initiate a pair of separate reviews into campus safety and how the university police department responded to a complaint from McCluskey about her killer earlier this month.
"Let me be clear: I have great faith that our university police department worked diligently on this incident," university president Ruth Watkins said. "They too welcome an independent review. We will leave no stone unturned in determining anything we can do to prevent something like this from happening again on our campus."
Melvin Rowland, 37, a convicted sex offender who was free on parole, dated McCluskey, a member of the Utah track and field team, for about a month after they met at a bar where he worked as a bouncer, University of Utah police chief Dale Brophy said Thursday at a news conference. McCluskey ended the relationship Oct. 9, after learning about Rowland's criminal background. In the days following the breakup, Rowland attempted to extort McCluskey and stalked her residence before assaulting her in a parking lot and shooting her several times in the back seat of a car, Brophy said. She was 21.
Rowland killed himself hours later in a church as police closed in.
Rowland was convicted of forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor, both felonies, in 2004 in Utah. On Oct. 9, when McCluskey became aware of his background, she invited him to her dorm to confront him and end the relationship, Brophy told reporters. He said McCluskey allowed Rowland to stay with her that night and borrow her car the next day.
On Oct. 10, McCluskey's mother, Jill McCluskey, a professor at Washington State University, contacted campus police dispatch because she was worried her daughter would be forced to go alone to retrieve her car from Rowland.
Police made contact with Lauren McCluskey, but she told them she did not feel uncomfortable having Rowland drop off her car, Brophy said. Police later provided an escort for McCluskey after Rowland dropped her car off in a parking lot several blocks from her dorm.
Two days later, McCluskey began receiving suspicious messages she believed were from Rowland and/or his friends, and she contacted police, Brophy told reporters. She told police the messages didn't make her feel uncomfortable, but told them Rowland's friends were trying to lure her somewhere and she didn't know why, Brophy said. Police later determined Rowland likely was responsible for all the messages McCluskey received.
Then, on Oct. 13, she received a demand for money in order to prevent compromising photos of her and Rowland from being published on the internet, and she met the demand by depositing $1,000 in an account, Brophy said. McCluskey filed a report and university police opened an extortion case against Rowland, but the formal investigation did not begin until Oct. 19 due to workload issues, Brophy said.
Brophy also said the department knew Rowland was a registered sex offender but was not aware Rowland was on parole. In the early stages of the investigation, the police did not have enough information to pass on to any other law enforcement agency, Brophy said, adding that there were no indications from McCluskey that Rowland was threatening physical violence.
Rowland was granted parole on Feb. 20 and released in April, public records show. Rowland's address was available on the sex offender database and he was required to check in monthly, according to Kaitlin Felsted, a public information officer for the Utah Department of Corrections. Rowland was last in touch with his parole officer by phone on Oct. 16, and the conversation did not raise any red flags, Felsted said.
Rowland was granted parole on two prior occasions -- in 2012 and 2016 -- but violated the conditions of his release on both occasions and was returned to prison, according to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. During one parole hearing, he described himself as a womanizer who manipulated women to get what he wanted and said he was attracted to teenage girls and vulnerable women, and sought to manipulate those he met in person or online, according to a recording of the 2012 hearing released by Utah state authorities.
Gov. Gary Herbert said corrections and parole officials had approved independent investigations into the handling of Rowland's parole.
On the day of McCluskey's killing, Rowland spent several hours hanging out near her residence and attempted to lure her out of her dorm by sending a text message posing as a police officer, Brophy said. When she returned to her dorm, Rowland attacked McCluskey in the parking lot while she was on the phone with her mother and dragged her to the car, where he shot her several times, the chief said.
According to Brophy, Rowland obtained the gun from an acquaintance, whom he told his girlfriend wanted to learn how to shoot. The acquaintance reached out to police voluntarily upon seeing news reports about the shooting and is cooperating with police, Brophy said, but it remains possible the individual could face criminal charges down the line.
After shooting McCluskey, Rowland was picked up by a woman he had recently met on a dating website, Brophy said. They had dinner and went to her apartment, where Rowland showered before leaving. That woman contacted police when she saw Rowland's name in news reports about the shooting and is not expected to face charges, Brophy said.
The external, independent reviews of campus safety measures and the police department's handling of the case will begin as soon as possible, Watkins said. As of Thursday evening, the university had not announced who would lead those reviews.