McCluskey's family says the 21-year-old athlete broke off her month-long relationship with Melvin Rowland after discovering he was a registered sex offender who had lied about his name, age, and criminal history. According to authorities, Rowland — who was really 37-years-old — allegedly harassed McCluskey and she reported him to campus police in mid-October.
Shortly before 9 p.m. Monday, there was a dispute between them and he fatally shot her. Officials discovered McCluskey’s body in the backseat of a car parked on campus, and Rowland led the police on a manhunt. He was was found dead by suicide at a Trinity AME Church in Salt Lake City on the early hours of Tuesday.
According to the Utah Department of Corrections, Rowland was convicted on charges of enticing a minor and attempted forcible sexual abuse, both felonies, in 2004. He was released in 2013.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the student's mother Jill McCluskey said they were talking on the phone as her daughter walked back to her dorm after a night class. "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," she said in the statement. She added that her husband Matthew McCluskey called 911 and she kept the line open. "In a few minutes, a young woman picked up the phone and said all of Lauren's things were on the ground," she said.
Intimate partner violence is an epidemic: Nearly half of the women murdered in the U.S. are killed by current or former partners, according to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk is higher for young women like McCluskey, said Hamra Ahmad, director of legal services of the New York-based legal nonprofit organization Her Justice. "Young women, particularly those between the ages 16 and 24, experience the higher rates of intimate partner violence in this country, which is nearly triple the national average," she told Refinery29. "Among female victims, 94% of those between the ages of 16 and 19, and 70% of those 20 to 24 — which is the group this victim was in — were victimized by current or former boyfriends. Unfortunately, what happened here in this case is very common."
Ahmad added that when assailants have a history of violence, like in the case of Rowland, there's an increase in risk for victims. "Our society often asks, 'Well, why doesn't she just leave?' But when she does, there's a lot of barriers and obstacles that victims face," she said, adding that McCluskey ending the relationship was likely a breaking point for her ex. "They are often not aware that the most dangerous point of that relationship is when they leave. That's when the risk increases exponentially because the perpetrator has lost control [of the relationship]."
Rowland was on parole, according to the Utah Department of Corrections. Officials say that campus police did not inform them of McClaskey's report, which could have led to Rowland's arrest since it was a violation of his parole terms.
According to her mother, McCluskey was majoring in communications and would graduate in May 2019. "She loved to sing and had strength and determination," Jill McCluskey wrote of her daughter. "She was dearly loved and will be greatly missed."