SALT LAKE CITY — The parents of slain University of Utah student-athlete Lauren McCluskey reiterated Friday that their daughter's death was "absolutely" preventable.
Matt and Jill McCluskey sat down with "Good Morning America" to give their first TV interview since their daughter's killing on Oct. 22.
Lauren McCluskey, 21, had gone out with Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, for about a month until she discovered that he had been lying to her about his name and age. When she learned that he was a convicted sex offender who spent several years in the Utah State Prison, she immediately tried to cut off contact with him.
From Oct. 10 until her death, Lauren McCluskey made multiple calls to the University of Utah Department of Public Safety informing them about Rowland's attempts to extort her and the bizarre texts she was receiving, either from him or his friends.
Investigators later determined Rowland was sending all the texts himself, but was "spoofing" some of them to make it look like someone else was contacting McCluskey.
"I think they’re trying to lure me somewhere,” she told dispatchers in a recording of one of her 911 calls. "I’m dealing with a situation where I’m being blackmailed for money. A photo of me and my ex, they’re threatening to send it out to everyone and he’s asking for $1,000.”
At one point, McCluskey called Salt Lake police to see if they could do anything to help. Because of department jurisdictions, dispatchers could only transfer her back to the U.
Jill McCluskey said her daughter told her she felt like she was pestering police.
"One thing she did tell me is, she said, ‘It feels like I’m bothering them’ because she was calling so much. And then I remember telling her it’s their job to listen to you if you’re complaining," Jill McCluskey told "Good Morning America." "They weren’t taking her seriously.”
She continued: "I have the phone records. … For one officer, there were 22 calls back and forth and none of them are recorded because it's on the cellphone."
Despite acknowledging that numerous mistakes were made, U. President Ruth Watkins stated that according to the final report from an independent panel assigned to look into how U. police handled the McCluskey case, it was impossible to say whether her death could have been prevented.
"I just had a sick stomach for days after that,” Jill McCluskey told the ABC show upon hearing that statement.
McCluskey, 21, was walking back to her dorm on the University of Utah campus at night on Oct. 22 when she was grabbed by Rowland, 37, dragged into the back seat of her car and shot to death. Rowland was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being chased by Salt Lake police.
One of the mistakes the university panel found was that no officer from the U. conducted a proper criminal background check on Rowland.
"They should have investigated. They would have very quickly found his parole status, and one call and we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Matt McCluskey, Lauren McCluskey's father, told "Good Morning America."
The independent report also found at least 30 other areas that could use improvement on campus and with the police department to help protect students. Matt McCluskey believes if his daughter's death wasn't preventable, then there wouldn't be the need for so many changes.
When the ABC program asked the McCluskeys if they are still angry over what happened, they said they are mostly just sad.
"The sadness is so complete, I don’t have room for anger,” Matt McCluskey said.
The couple said one way they are moving forward is by creating the Lauren McCluskey Foundation to help prevent something like this from happening again to another young woman on a college campus.
The foundation, Matt McCluskey said, will focus on three areas: Campus safety — "research and education into ways to protect our daughters"; celebrating her life, noting it will support youth and college track and field athletes; and reflecting Lauren McCluskey's love of animals by supporting animal shelters.
"If we can make a difference going forward," Jill McCluskey told the morning show, "it will at least take our minds off the sadness."
Friday afternoon, the U. updated a prepared statement on its website regarding the McCluskey case, and "added answers to some of the questions raised by the McCluskey family" in light of the "Good Morning America" interview, according to U. spokesman Chris Nelson.
"The parents of Lauren McCluskey have raised important questions and understandable concerns about campus safety and whether the university’s public safety, student housing and other departments did everything they could to prevent the crime that took their daughter’s life," the statement begins.
It goes on to emphasize the 30 recommendations that were made to improve campus safety that have either already been implemented or are in the process of happening.
"Work is underway to implement every one of the 30 recommendations made by the review team. It is the university’s position that we must give our leadership and staff the training and resources to learn from this tragedy and work as a team to make our campus as safe as we possibly can for our students, staff, faculty and visitors," it says.19 comments on this story
Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, said Friday he has completed a bill nicknamed "Lauren’s Law" and has approved it for numbering for the upcoming session of the Utah Legislature. The bill would hold a gun owner strictly liable in a civil suit if they loaned a gun which was used to commit a felony. The gun that Rowland used to kill McCluskey was borrowed.
“What I hope to do with this bill is to make it kind of an education piece so that just gun owners will think twice before they loan them out,” Stoddard said.
Contributing: Emily Ashcraft