Suspect in Utah University Murder Was Sex Offender

October 24, 2018 Updated: October 24, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY—A University of Utah student-athlete who was fatally shot on campus by her former boyfriend had broken off the relationship after learning he was a sex offender, authorities said Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Investigators had been working to build a case against 37-year-old Melvin Rowland after a police complaint was filed against him by 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey, a senior from Pullman, Washington, university police chief Dale Brophy said.

McCluskey was found shot in a car Monday night near on-campus student housing. Rowland killed himself hours later at a church when police tracked him down after linking him to the killing through a description, clothing, and evidence at the scene, authorities said.

murder victim Lauren McCluskey
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 was shot and killed by a former boyfriend in Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 23, 2018. (Steve C. Wilson/University of Utah via AP)

Brophy wouldn’t disclose details from her report. Her mother, Jill McCluskey, said her daughter had filed a harassment complaint after breaking up with Rowland.

They had dated for about a month, but McCluskey ended the relationship on Oct. 9 when she learned he had lied about his age, name and criminal history, Jill McCluskey said in a statement. It wasn’t clear how the two met.

sex offender and murder suspect Melvin Rowland
This undated photo provided by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office shows convicted sex offender Melvin Rowland. Authorities suspect he shot and killed Lauren McCluskey before committing suicide on Oct. 23, 2018. (Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Jill McCluskey said she had been talking on the phone with her daughter as she returned from a night class and heard her yell, “No, no, no!” A few minutes later, a woman picked up the phone and said all of Lauren McCluskey’s belongings were on the ground.

“I thought she might have been in a car accident,” Jill McCluskey said. “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 was twice sent back from halfway houses after violating 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 on parole and it was unclear how he obtained one.

Initial reports of the shooting sparked panic on the Salt Lake City campus. University officials ordered students to stay in place for about three hours as they searched for the gunman.

University of Utah student Jonas Woychick said he was playing pool when he got a message about an on-campus shooter. He and eight other students waited in a bathroom for two hours until they learned it was safe.

“I didn’t know if this shooter was going for other people, or if he was just targeting one person,” said Woychick, who is from Boise, Idaho.

Lauren McCluskey competed in track, majored in communication and was excited about graduating next spring, said her mother, a professor at Washington State University, adding that her daughter was a Washington state high jump champion in high school and loved to sing.

University President Ruth Watkins said classes were canceled Tuesday and a vigil would be held Wednesday night.

“As a campus community, we share grief over this tragic loss of life,” Watkins said in a statement.

Athletics Director Mark Harlan said counselors and psychologists were available to support McCluskey’s teammates, coaches, and friends. He said she was a proud Ute and an outstanding student-athlete.

“This isn’t right,” Harlan said. “I don’t really have any words. My heart goes out to her family. … When something like this happens, it defies any logic, any reason.”