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Lauren McCluskey
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University of Utah launches two reviews following deadly campus shooting

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 — Melvin Rowland was a master manipulator.

“If his lips were moving, he was lying,” University of Utah Chief of Police Dale Brophy said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon.

Brophy, U of U President Ruth Watkins and Director of Athletics Mark Harlan provided new information about the shooting death of student athlete Lauren McCluskey. That included a revelation that McCluskey, 21, had been the victim of extortion carried out by her ex-boyfriend, Rowland.

They also revealed that after shooting McCluskey to death in the back seat of a car on Monday evening, Rowland, 37, went on a date with another woman whom he had met on a dating app.

The Reviews

The actions of campus police have come under scrutiny since the shooting, because McCluskey had repeatedly sought help dealing with suspicious situations seemingly tied to Rowland.

Rowland was on parole, having previously spent time in prison on convictions for attempted sexual abuse and attempting to lure a minor over the internet.

President Watkins announced two separate reviews during the news conference. One, she said, will focus on campus safety.

“This is commencing immediately,” Watkins said.

The other will deal with the police department’s specific response to McCluskey’s case. University leaders stressed the probe will deal more with police protocols, rather than the actions of individual officers.

Brophy provided a timeline of McCluskey and Rowland’s relationship during the press conference.

The Timeline

They had met at a bar where Rowland was working as a bouncer on Sept, 2, 2018 and “immediately started a relationship,” Brophy said.

Then, on Oct. 9, McCluskey learned Rowland was a convicted felon and registered sex offender. She determined he had lied to her about his age and criminal history and ended their relationship.

The next day, McCluskey loaned Rowland her car. Her mother, Jill McCluskey, contacted campus police from Washington state and asked them to accompany her daughter to retrieve the car. However, when police called Lauren, she reportedly told them she was not uncomfortable. Later that afternoon, Lauren called campus police again and said the situation had changed. She requested an escort to retrieve the car from a parking lot near Rice-Eccles Stadium, where Rowland had left it.

On Oct. 12, Brophy said McCluskey contacted police again to report receiving suspicious text messages and emails from numbers she didn’t recognize. The messages said Rowland was dead and it was her fault. McCluskey was able to verify that was not true by checking Rowland’s social media accounts.

The next day, she received additional messages. One demanded she deposit $1,000 into a bank account, or else intimate photos of she and Rowland would be posted on the internet. Brophy said McCluskey complied with the demand and informed campus police she had been extorted.

Brophy said campus police did not launch a formal investigation into the extortion complaint until 6 days later, on Oct. 29. Detectives began trying to establish who had sent the messages, which seemed to have come from “spoofed” phone numbers.

McCluskey received another spoofed message on the morning of Oct. 22, telling her to go to the police station for a meeting with the department’s deputy chief. She did not recognize the name or number and apparently disregarded the message.

“University police now believe that text came from Rowland, with the intent of getting Lauren to leave her dorm room,” Brophy said. “We later discovered that Rowland was outside of her dorm room at that time, appearing to be looking around or waiting for her to leave.”

Police have since learned that Rowland spent that afternoon waiting for McCluskey at her residence hall. Brophy said Rowland had become friends with many of the other students while dating McCluskey and they granted him access to the building.

Police believe that at 8:20 p.m., Rowland confronted McCluskey in the parking lot outside the residence hall. They said he dragged her into the back seat of a car he’d driven to campus, where he shot her multiple times using a handgun he’d borrowed from an acquaintance. Brophy said Rowland had told the acquaintance he wanted to teach his girlfriend how to shoot a gun.

“That individual upon finding out about this crime contacted the police department proactively, said ‘I believe I know where that individual got the gun and I’m just as horrified as you are. I did not realize that’s what it was for,'” Brophy said. “He’s fully cooperating with the investigation and at this time, no charges are pending against that individual.”

Police determined Rowland left campus a short time after the shooting with a woman he had met a few days earlier through an online dating service. Brophy said Rowland told the woman he’d just finished a workout and needed a ride. She picked him up, they went out to eat and then visited the state Capitol. Later, Rowland showered at the woman’s apartment before she dropped him off at a copy shop.

“This was another person Rowland had duped into thinking he was a great guy and he could do no wrong,” Brophy said. “And immediately after shooting and killing his girlfriend, was able to go to dinner, go to the Capitol and go to her house and act as if nothing was amiss.”

That woman came forward after seeing Rowland’s picture on the news. She is not expected to face any criminal charges.

Salt Lake City police located Rowland near 600 South and 250 East later that night and began a foot pursuit. They believe Rowland broke into Trinity AME Church, where he shot and killed himself as officers closed in on him.

The Community Response

McCluskey’s death shocked the University community.

McCluskey was an accomplished track and field athlete from Pullman, Washington who was in her senior year at the U of U.

Tributes have poured in in the days since her death from U of U classmates, other colleges and professional athletes. Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell dedicated his game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night to McCluskey and her family.

Hundreds of people also gathered at a memorial in her honor on Wednesday night.

During Thursday’s press conference, President Watkins revealed McCluskey is being awarded a posthumous degree. The University also plans to deliver a framed jersey to McCluskey’s family.