A 21-year-old college student was found shot to death on the campus of the University of Utah Monday night, authorities said. The suspected gunman, a registered sex offender, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a Salt Lake City church following a manhunt by police, officials. Police said the suspected gunman was a former boyfriend of the victim.
The woman, Lauren McCluskey, a senior at the school, was a star track athlete and communication major from Pullman, Washington, who, her family said, had a 3.75 GPA and was scheduled to graduate in May 2019. Officials identified the suspected gunman as 37-year-old Melvin Rowland.
According to a statement from her family, McCluskey and Rowland dated for about a month, however, the family said, he concealed his criminal record from her and lied about his name and age. Earlier this month, the family said, McCluskey discovered the truth about his criminal record and ended the relationship. She sought assistance from the campus to get her car back from Melvin and then, after telling him not to contact her, reported him for harassing her, according to the statement by her family.
Then, McCluskey ran into Rowland on campus Monday night — while she was on the phone talking with her mother, who described the unexpected turn of events in chilling detail. “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,” Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, said. “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.”
Statement from the family of Lauren McCluskey, the University of Utah star student athlete, who was killed on campus Monday night. The suspect is her ex-boyfriend, a registered sex offender, who lied to her about his age and criminal history, according to her family. pic.twitter.com/RfTIT5AW6n
— Tasneem N (@TasneemN) October 23, 2018
Police reportedly responded thinking a possible abduction was under way. After they discovered McCluskey’s dead body in a parked car, a pursuit ensued as they went after Rowland, who was not a student at the school.
“They chased him to this location, where they found that he had forced entry into the church,” University of Utah Police Services Lt. Brian Wahlin said, according to ABC News. “After clearing the building, they found our suspect deceased in a room in the church, suffering from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Rowland, a Salt Lake City resident, was convicted of attempted forcible sex abuse and enticing a minor over the internet in 2004, ABC News reported. Authorities have yet to identify a motive in the case or reveal how Rowland obtained the firearm. According to The Washington Post, Rowland was on parole and in previous parole hearing had once described himself as a “womanizer” who targeted vulnerable women and girls and used deception in order to coerce women into having sex with him. At a 2012 hearing Rowland reportedly claimed, “I’d say every woman I met or that I came across I used my manipulation tactics to get what I wanted.”
Recent studies have shown a correlation between gun violence and domestic abuse, with one survey showing that millions of women have been threatened with gun violence by a significant other and many more have been shot at or survived gunshot wounds. And that study focused only non-fatal gun violence.
Meanwhile, classes were canceled Tuesday, the university said in a statement, “to allow our campus community to grieve the senseless loss of this bright, young woman.” McCluskey, with 3,181 points, is ranked 10th all-time at Utah in pentathlon competition and in 2017 she was awarded honorable mention to the Pac-12 all-Academic team. In its statement, her family said McCluskey “loved to sing and had strength and determination. She was dearly loved and will be greatly missed.”
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