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Parents Of College Student Killed By Ex Say Her Death ‘Absolutely’ Could Have Been Prevented

“They should’ve investigated,” her father Matt McCluskey said of police and university authorities after his daughter's repeated attempts to get help. 

By Jill Sederstrom

Utah college student Lauren McCluskey called a detective 22 times for help before she was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, according to her parents who said those pleas for help would ultimately go unanswered in the “absolutely” preventable death of their daughter

"She said, 'It feels like I'm bothering them,' because she called ... she was calling so much," her mother, Jill McCluskey, told Good Morning America. "I remember telling her, 'It's their job to listen to you.’”

But McCluskey’s parents believe police and the university weren’t listening and failed to protect their daughter, despite repeated calls to report the threatening messages from ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, a 37-year-old convicted sex offender who lied to McCluskey about his name, age and criminal past.

Rowland and McCluskey dated for just one month before she discovered his lies and ended the relationship.

"They seemed to show no curiosity about his person who had lied about his age, his name, his ... he was a sex offender," her father Matt McCluskey said of police response. "And then they found out that he's also a felon."

If university or police had taken action, he said his daughter could still be alive today.

“They should’ve investigated,” he told the morning show. “They would’ve very quickly found his parole status in one call and it would … we couldn’t be sitting here today.”

Instead, police said Rowland grabbed McCluskey as she was walking home from class on Oct. 22, 2018, pulled her into her own vehicle and shot her. He killed himself hours later as police searched for him.

Jill McCluskey had been on the phone with her daughter at the time and recalled the horror of hearing her daughter be attacked.

"I was on the phone with her as ... she was coming home from class," Jill McCluskey said. "And then all of a sudden, she yells, 'No, no, no!'"

Matt McCluskey quickly called police and can be heard in the 911 call saying, “She was abducted while we were talking to her on the telephone. So we heard her being assaulted.”

The death cut short a life that was just beginning.

“We won’t get to see her at each stage of her life and she was so excited about having a career … having a family in the future,” her mom said.

After her death, the University of Utah conducted an independent review of University of Utah Public Safety and Housing and Residential Education, which identified multiple shortcomings in the handling of McCluskey's complaints, but ultimately determined that it was impossible to know if the death could have been prevented.

Shortly after the report, President Ruth Watkins’ said there was no “reason to believe” McCluskey’s death wouldn’t have happened if there had been more help from police, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

McCluskey’s family disagrees with the decision.

“I just had a sick stomach for days after that,” Jill McCluskey told GMA of the Watkins’ conclusion.

Just last month they issued a letter denouncing her decision.

“There were numerous opportunities to protect [Lauren] during the almost two weeks between the time when our daughter began expressing repeated, elevating, and persistent concerns about her situation and the time of her murder,” they wrote, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The university has also said the report identified deficiencies in their current system and is working to institute 30 different recommendations made in the report.  

The McCluskey family now plans to focuses on preventing this type of tragedy for others and has created The Lauren McCluskey Foundation to improve campus safety. It will also support young track and field athletes and animal shelters.

The family hopes to make a difference in the lives of others in the hopes will “take our minds off the sadness,” Jill McCluskey said.

[Photos: Facebook, Salt Lake City County]

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