SALT LAKE CITY – An ex-Pullman High School track star and University of Utah student-athlete was shot on campus by an ex-boyfriend, who was found dead hours later inside a church, according to a statement by University of Utah President Ruth Watkins.
After receiving a phone call of a possible abduction around 8:20 p.m. Monday, university police found Lauren McCluskey’s body in a parking lot outside of a residence hall, Watkins’ statement said.
Police followed Melvin Rowland, 37, into an off-campus church after he was spotted at about 1 a.m., University of Utah Police Lt. Brian Wahlin said, the Associated Press reported.
Wahlin said Rowland’s body was found inside the church. Police didn’t provide circumstances of Rowland’s death.
According to a statement from the victim’s mother, Jill McCluskey, Lauren McCluskey had dated Rowland for about a month then ended the relationship on Oct. 9 when she learned he had lied about his age, name and criminal history. It wasn’t clear how the two met.
At the time, Rowland was borrowing Lauren McCluskey’s car, and she requested that campus police escort her to get it back. She complained to the university that she was being harassed, the mother’s statement said.
McCluskey’s parents, Matt and Jill McCluskey, are both Washington State University faculty members. Jill McCluskey had been talking to her daughter on the phone while the young woman was making her way back to her university apartment from her night class.
“Suddenly, I heard her yell, ‘No, no, no!’ ” Jill McCluskey wrote in her statement. “I thought she might have been in a car accident. That was the last I heard from her.”
Rowland spent nearly a decade in prison after pleading guilty to trying to lure an underage girl online and attempted sex abuse charges, according to court records.
He was charged with two separate crimes in September 2003, said Paul Amann, the prosecutor on the case.
Rowland had been caught in an online sex crimes sting when a police officer posed as a 13-year-old girl. After he was charged, a woman came forward to report he had sexually assaulted her after a separate online meeting a few days earlier.
“He was just out of control. He had no self-control,” Amann said Tuesday.
Rowland pleaded guilty to enticing a minor over the internet and attempted forcible sex abuse in an agreement with prosecutors, records show. His defense attorney did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Rowland was released from prison in 2012 after serving eight years and has twice been sent back from halfway houses for violating his parole, Utah prison spokeswoman Kaitlin Felsted said. He was most recently paroled in April and was living on his own.
Rowland was prohibited from owning a gun while on parole and it was unclear how he obtained one.
Jordyn Rauer, who graduated from West Valley High School in 2016, competed against Lauren McCluskey in the Great Northern League for three years. She remembers McCluskey as “not only a fierce competitor, but also an incredible teammate.”
Rauer said that they loved celebrating personal records together.
“I was lucky to be able to compete in similar events and I got to know what a wonderful person she was,” Rauer said. “I have been following her success at Utah the past few years. I have always been motivated by Lauren. She will not only be survived by her loving friends and family, but by every athlete in the GNL.”
McCluskey won a Washington State 2A high jump title while at Pullman High School and took second in the 100 hurdles, setting a school record.
There will be a candlelight vigil for McCluskey on Nov. 1 at the track, organized by former students who graduated in 2015 with her, Pullman Public Schools communications coordinator Shannon Focht said.
“Our administrators went around to teachers that had Lauren in class earlier today to check on them and see how they’re doing,” Focht said. “And, of course, a really tragic loss and it’s tough.”
WSU President Kirk Schulz tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with WSU faculty members Matt and Jill McCluskey on the loss of their daughter last night on the campus at the University of Utah.”
Watkins said in a statement that the University of Utah canceled classes Tuesday. She also announced a vigil for McCluskey at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the steps of the Park Building.
“As a campus community, we share grief over this tragic loss of life,” she said in a statement.
Athletics Director Mark Harlan, in a statement released on Twitter, said university counselors and psychologists were available to support McCluskey’s teammates, coaches and friends.
“This news has shaken not only myself but our entire University of Utah athletics family to its core,” he said in the statement.
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