Utah student paid ex-boyfriend $1,000 not to post photos of her, then he killed her
SALT LAKE CITY (KOMO) The University of Utah student shot dead Monday by her ex-boyfriend told police she had sent him $1,000 so that he would not post compromising photos of her online, university officials revealed.
Lauren McCluskey, 21, of Pullman, Wash., was killed in the back seat of a car on the campus of the University of Utah, where she was a senior and track athlete. The suspect, Melvin Rowland, 37, killed himself hours later at a church as police closed in.
McCluskey told campus police on Oct. 13 that she had received messages from Rowland, whom she'd met in September, or from his friends demanding money in exchange for not posting compromising photos of her and Rowland online, according to university officials.
McCluskey told police she sent $1,000 to an account in hopes of keeping the photos private and preserving her reputation, officials reported.
Police were investigating the case as sexual extortion and knew Rowland was a sex offender but not that he was on parole, university police chief Dale Brophy said.
McCluskey had made contact with university police about Rowland at least six times over the 12 days before her body was found in a car on campus, less than two hours after she vanished while she was on the phone with her mother, according to a timeline of the case released by university police.
McCluskey told investigators she had received numerous emails and messages using different names trying to lure her to locations. Investigators now believe they all came from Rowland, who Brophy called a master manipulator.
After shooting McCluskey, Rowland was picked up on campus by a woman he met online. They went to dinner, visited the state Capitol and went to her apartment where Rowland took a shower.
Later that night, after the woman dropped Rowland at a coffee shop, police tracked him to the church where he killed himself.
The woman had called police when she saw photos of the man being sought for the campus shooting.
Rowland got the gun by telling an acquaintance that his girlfriend wanted to learn to shoot.
Brophy said it appears the woman who picked up Rowland on campus and the person who loaned him the gun had been duped and are not expected to face charges.
"Rowland was a manipulator. If his lips were moving, he was lying," Brophy said. "I don't think he told the truth to anybody based on our investigation."
Amid questions over how campus police handled the case, the university's president has vowed a "fully independent of the university review both of the campus safety task force and the work of our police department with independent experts." It's still not clear who will lead the review or when it will begin, President Ruth Watkins said.
Brophy said police didn't start the formal extortion investigation until six days after her Oct. 13 report due to workload issues.
In the early stages of the investigation, they didn't have enough information to pass on to any other law enforcement, Brophy said, adding that there were no indications from McCluskey that Rowland was threatening physical violence.
University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said outside investigations are being launched to assess campus security and police protocols to determine if improvements can be made to prevent future shootings.
Watkins said so far she has found no mistakes in how police handled the case. Brophy said he welcomes the reviews.
Gov. Gary Herbert said corrections and parole officials had approved independent investigations into the handling of Rowland's parole.
"Clearly in hindsight, we're going to say, 'You should have done this, you should have done that,'" Herbert said during his monthly televised news conference at KUED-TV
He noted, however, "You never know when these things are going to occur."
Rowland was paroled in April when he told the parole board that he was a changed man after being a peer leader in prison had helped him tap into his empathy and learn to follow the rules.
He spent nearly a decade in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to trying to lure an underage girl online and attempted sex abuse charges, according to court records.