On Friday, Salt Lake City police released the 911 calls made by a University of Utah student before her former boyfriend, a convicted sex offender, allegedly killed her.
Salt Lake Tribune reports that days before 21-year-old college jogger Lauren McCluskey died, she broke up with a man she’d been dating, Melvin Rowland, 37, after she learned he lied about his age and criminal history. On October 13, Lauren called 911 and explained she was being blackmailed. Although the 911 call doesn’t specify why she was being blackmailed, previous reports indicate Rowland had compromising photos of the student.
“Hi, I’ve been blackmailed, um, for money,” Lauren McCluskey said after making a second 911 call concerning Rowland. “I was just concerned because I wasn’t sure how long they were going to take to file an arrest.”
As CrimeOnline previously reported, the track standout and college junior filed a police report against Rowland four days after she broke up with him. According to University Police Chief Dale Brophy, McCluskey ended her brief relationship with Rowland after she found out he served nine years in prison on sex-related offenses, then lied to her about his name and age.
Shortly after ending their relationship, which lasted around a month, Rowland began sending McCluskey numerous emails, trying to lure her to different locations in attempt to extort money for her in exchange for “compromising photos of the pair,” which he threatened to post online, according to police.
He also reportedly lurked around the college campus McCluskey attended, although he was not a student there himself. McCluskey ended up wiring Rowland $1,000 to keep the photos private, according to Brody, but it didn’t stop the suspect.
Less a month later, he fatally shot her. Their story, however, began in September.
McCluskey met Rowland on September 2, at a local bar where he worked as a bouncer. Within days after meeting, the pair started dating and Rowland began visiting McCluskey frequently on campus. He apparently became friends with other people at the college once he started hanging out on campus with McCluskey.
By October 9, McCluskey learned that Rowland was not who he said he was.
After learning of his true identity and his past, which included felony convictions for attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor, McCluskey invited Rowland to her dorm room and informed him she wanted to end their relationship. She allowed him to spend the night and borrow her car so he could run errands.
When Rowland didn’t return the car the next day, the victim’s mother, Jill McCluskey, contacted police and asked for assistance in locating the vehicle. By 5 p.m., however, Rowland had dropped the car off at the Rice-Eccles Stadium.
On October 12, Lauren filed a report with campus police after reportedly receiving text messages that Rowland was dead. Lauren told police she thought Rowland’s friends sent the messages, as Rowland was still posting on social media, despite it being a violation of probation to have social media accounts.
At the time, Lauren told police she didn’t feel like she was in danger but thought that Rowland’s friends were trying to lure her out of her dorm.
On October 13, Lauren contacted police again, stating that she received messages demanding she pay $1,000 in exchange for the privacy of intimate photos taken while the pair dated, according to police records. Lauren wired the money to an account after someone sent text messages threatening to post the photos online.
On October 19, Lauren again contacted police again after receiving another text message. An officer followed up with her regarding the extortion investigation, but it’s unclear whether a warrant was issued. In the meantime, campus surveillance footage showed Rowland prowling around the college campus from October 19 through October 22.
“Last Saturday I reported,” Lauren said to a Salt Lake City police dispatcher, “and I haven’t gotten an update.”
University police pulled Rowland’s criminal records but did not determine at the time that he was out on parole. A parole officer spoke with Rowland, but since the responding University officers had not contacted the parole agency, the parole officer had no idea that Rowland had violated parole.
On October 22 at around 10:39 a.m., Lauren contacted police and said she received a text from someone claiming to be Deputy Chief Rick McLenon and asking her to go to the police station. Authorities think Rowland sent the text in an attempt to lure Lauren out of her dorm.
At around 8:20 p.m. on October 22, Lauren was talking to her mother on the phone as she left a night class. Rowland confronted Lauren in the parking lot by her dorm, grabbed her, and dragged her to a car. In the process, Lauren dropped her cellphone and belongings. Rowland shot her multiple times once he had her inside the car.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, the victim’s mother contacted University police on October 22 after she became concerned for her daughter’s well-being. Lauren had already told her mother that she broke up with Rowland after learning he spent nearly nine years in prison on convictions of attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor.
“He lied to her about his name, his age, and his criminal history,” Jill McCluskey wrote on Twitter. “She blocked his and his friends’ phone numbers and complained to University of Utah police that she was being harassed.”
Words cannot express our sadness. pic.twitter.com/ZZN85xDio3
— Jill McCluskey (@jjmccluskey) October 23, 2018
Jill heard Lauren scream out while on the phone with her Monday evening, then the phone dropped. A few minutes later, a female student picked up Lauren’s cellphone and informed Jill that all of her daughter’s belongings, including her cellphone, had been thrown on the ground.
“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,” Jill wrote.
Lauren was found deceased inside the car at around 9 p.m. on October 22, near the Medical Towers dorm on campus.
Authorities attempted to locate Rowland for hours, then at around 1 a.m. on October 23, he was spotted close to 600 South 200 East in Salt Lake City. Officers chased Rowland on foot into a nearby church. The suspect broke into the church and while inside, apparently shot and killed himself, according to police.
University of Utah police Chief Dale Brophy confirmed that Lauren had indeed filed a police report against Rowland on October 13. Authorities didn’t contact Rowland, however, because he was no longer living at a halfway house in the area. Brophy stated that Rowland had “walked away” from the Fortitude halfway house and the didn’t know where to find him.
Yet, The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Kaitlin Felsted, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Corrections, stated no one informed parole agents that someone had made a complaint against Rowland. Felsted also said that Rowland was living at an address he had listed on the sex offender registry. Not only had an agent performed an inspection in August, but had also been in contact with Rowland after that, according to Felsted.
Authorities didn’t officially open a case against Rowland until Lauren’s second call. Her parents indicated they had “reason to believe” her death could not have been prevented had police acted quicker. They’re now hoping officers who didn’t act quickly enough are “disciplined.”
“There were numerous opportunities to protect her during the almost two weeks between the time when our daughter began expressing repeated, elevating, and persistent concerns about her situation and the time of her murder,”Jill and Matthew McCluskey wrote.
Lauren was a senior at the school, majoring in communications. She was also a standout on the track team and beloved among students and staff at the school.
“As a campus community, we share grief over this tragic loss of life,” president of the school, Ruth K. Watkins stated. “Our deepest sympathy is extended to Lauren’s family and friends.”
[Feature Photo: Lauren McCluskey/University of Utah]