The suspect in the fatal shooting on the University of Utah campus Monday night went on a dinner date shortly after he killed a 21-year-old student with a borrowed gun, the university police chief said Thursday.
Melvin Rowland had asked the woman, whom police did not name, for a ride after he allegedly shot Lauren McCluskey, University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy told reporters at a press conference. Rowland, a registered sex offender, had told the woman he had just finished working out at the university.
McCluskey, a senior on the university’s track team and a communication major, had briefly dated Rowland before ending their relationship earlier this month.
“I can’t fathom how anybody with a conscience could murder their girlfriend and then go have dinner with somebody else and act like nothing happened,” Brophy said.
But police had known for weeks about McCluskey’s growing concern about Rowland — whose true identity she had recently learned. Just days before the man killed her and then himself, university police had opened a sexual extortion investigation into Rowland.
As for why university police did not reach out to Rowland’s parole officer, Brophy said that at the time, police did not believe they had enough evidence against Rowland. There was no indication that he had threatened her physically, according to the university’s account of what happened.
University officials said they’ve launched two separate reviews following the fatal shooting on campus. The university will bring on outside, independent expert to examine campus safety and security. A second review will examine the protocols of the university police department. University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins said university officials were committed to doing everything they could to prevent such violence from happening on campus.
“We will leave no stone unturned in determining anything we can do to prevent something like this from happening again,” Watkins said.
Giving a detailed chronology of events, Brophy said Rowland had stalked McCluskey, tracking her movements in the days leading up to her killing. It ended Monday as she returned to her campus apartment, speaking on the phone with her mother, when Rowland abducted her, dragged her to a nearby car, pushed her in into the backseat and shot her.
And then he went to dinner with another woman.
After dinner they went back to the woman’s home where Rowland took a shower. The woman later dropped off Rowland at a coffee shop, and then saw television news reports of the shooting. Recognizing the suspect from photos, the woman called police. She is fully cooperating with the investigation, Brophy said.
Police have also learned that Rowland borrowed the gun used in the shooting from an acquaintance. That person has come forward and is also cooperating with police.
The acquaintance, who was not named by police, told investigators that Rowland had asked to borrow his gun because he wanted to take his girlfriend target shooting, Brophy said.
Neither the woman nor the acquaintance are facing any charges at this time.
Brophy called Rowland a skilled manipulator who got McCluskey and others to trust him. Rowland had admitted as much during a January parole hearing. But he told a parole board that he was reforming, motivated by his young son.
“If his lips were moving, he was lying,” Brophy said. “I don’t think he told the truth to anybody based on our investigation and everybody we’ve talked to.”
A Fatal Meeting
McCluskey met Rowland on September 2 at a Salt Lake City bar where he worked as a bouncer, Brophy said.
He’d often visit her at her residence hall, even striking up friendships with other students who lived in the building. But a little more than a month after they met, McCluskey learned his real identity — and his criminal history as a sex offender.
On October 9, she asked him to come to her dorm room, where she confronted him about his past.
After Rowland admitted to being a convicted sex offender, McCluskey let him stay the night, Brophy said. He borrowed her car the next day to run errands. That day, McCluskey’s mother, Jill, a professor at Washington State University, called police and asked for a security escort to help her daughter get the car back.
Lauren McCluskey dismissed the offer of assistance, saying Rowland was going to return the car. Police dispatch told her that security officers would be near the building just in case, according to university officials.
Then things took a turn toward the bizarre.
Two days later, on October 12, the younger McCluskey contacted university police, reporting that she began receiving strange messages from people who she believed were Rowland’s friends. The texts stated that Rowland was dead — and it was her fault.
McCluskey told police she didn’t feel in danger or threatened, but she felt Rowland’s friends were trying to lure her somewhere, according to officials.
She later received more messages that she believed could have been from Rowland or his friends, asking for money in exchange for keeping “compromising photos” of her and Rowland off the internet, Brophy said. She told police that she had sent $1,000 to an account to keep the photos private.
Police opened a sexual extortion investigation on October 19, Brophy said. Over the next few days, security cameras recorded Rowland at several places around campus. Then, at 10:39 a.m. on October 22, McCluskey emailed police to say she’d received a text message from a spoofed number, claiming to be Deputy Chief Rick McLenon.
The text requested that she come to the police station. University police believe the message was sent by Rowland in an attempt to get her to leave her dorm room, according to officials.
That afternoon, Rowland spent the afternoon with McCluskey’s friends in her residence hall. At 8:20 p.m. he approached her in a parking lot as she returned home from class. He dragged her to another part of the parking lot, where he forced her into the back seat of a car he had driven to campus. There, he shot her multiple times, police say.
Eighteen minutes later, at 8:38 p.m., security cameras recorded Rowland as he was picked up by the woman with whom he later went to dinner and left campus. Just before 10 p.m. police discovered McCluskey’s body in the backseat of the car, according to the university’s account. A campus lockdown order was issued almost immediately.
A minute after midnight, officials sent an alert identifying Rowland as the shooting suspect. About 45 minutes later, Salt Lake police found Rowland and chased him to Trinity A.M.E. Church on Martin Luther King Blvd., where he broke into the building and went to a pastor’s office. As police entered the church, Rowland shot himself, officials said.