The parents of college student Lauren McCluskey has received a $13.5 million settlement from the University of Utah, the college announced Thursday. For the first time, the school publicly acknowledged that McCluskey’s death was preventable.
McCluskey, a 21-year-old at the school, was shot and killed on Oct. 22, 2018, by a man she dated briefly, Melvin Shawn Rowland, who later shot and killed her. He then killed himself when he was cornered by police. McCluskey had reached out to campus police numerous times in the weeks leading up to her death about fears for her safety.
On Thursday, the University of Utah’s president, Ruth Watkins, acknowledged how the school had failed McCluskey.
"The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren's case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren's situation," Watkins said. "As a result, we failed Lauren and her family.”
McCluskey’s parents decided to file a federal lawsuit against the school in Jan. 2019 after the university claimed they couldn’t have done anything to prevent her death. Getting the school to acknowledge its failures was an “important part of the settlement,” Jill told ESPN.
"I feel like that accountability is very important, and that allows them to truly move forward and make things better and make real change," she told the paper.
Also as part of the settlement, the school will also create an indoor athletic center in McCluskey’s name and a McCluskey Center for Violence. The parents acknowledged the school has made other positive since their daughter’s death, including better training.
Also in her statement, Watkins said: "If these employees had more complete training and protocols to guide the responses, the university believes they would've been better equipped to protect Lauren."
McCluskey initially met Rowland in summer 2018 and he claimed he was a 28-year-old college student named Shawn Fields, but in October she discovered that was a lie. Rowland was really a 37-year-old convicted sex offender. She broke up with Rowland, but he proceeded to send her text messages threatening to post an explicit picture she had sent him. She sent him $1,000 to prevent him from doing so. He also stalked her, came to her school with a gun, and posed as a police officer in a text message to allegedly lure her outside.
McCluskey and her mom notified campus police more than 20 times about what was taking place, according to reports, but although the school conducted an investigation, they did not find that Rowland was on parole. A resident assistant was also notified of the threats being made against McCluskey and reported them, but no action was taken, according to reports.
Rowland eventually shot and killed McCluskey on campus near the the university’s dorms. In the settlement agreement the university said it “acknowledges that the murder of Lauren McCluskey was a brutal, senseless and preventable tragedy."
The family said all the money from the settlement will go to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which they started to help with campus safety and also focuses on anima welfare and amateur athletics.