University of Utah senior Lauren McCluskey had discovered the man she was dating was a registered sex offender.
She broke off their relationship on Oct. 9, her mother said, and when the man, Melvin S. Rowland, began harassing her days later, McCluskey told university police.
The university’s police chief said Tuesday that his officers couldn’t find Rowland in the days before the shooting. But Rowland was on parole — and a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections said officials knew where he was living.
Parole officials also say that university police did not tell them that McCluskey alleged Rowland was harassing her. When parolees are accused of new crimes, they often can be arrested for violating parole and sent back to prison; Rowland had repeatedly been returned to prison for violations.
The university’s police chief, Dale Brophy, said at a Tuesday news conference his officers couldn’t locate Rowland because “we don’t have a correct address for him.” Brophy said Rowland had walked away from a halfway house.
But Kaitlin Felsted, a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Corrections, said no one told its parole agents that there had been a complaint about Rowland, 37.
“We had no notification of any of that,” Felsted said.
And Rowland was living, Felsted said, at the Salt Lake City address listed on the sex offender registry. An agent had done an inspection there in August and had last been in contact with Rowland on Oct. 16, Felsted said. McCluskey made her harassment reports to campus police Oct. 12 and 13.
As a felon, Rowland was prohibited from having a gun. Brophy did not comment on investigations into how Rowland obtained the weapon.
Asked at the news conference if his department had done enough to protect McCluskey, Brophy replied, “I want the answer to that question as well. And when we have it, I’ll share it with you.”
Felsted on Tuesday said Rowland was “not fully compliant” with his latest parole. He had technical violations but not the kind that would automatically return him to prison. Felsted didn’t specify what those were.
“He was working with his agent to get through those” violations, Felsted said.
Through a campus spokesman, Brophy declined to answer follow-up questions later Tuesday. The spokesman, Chris Nelson, said the chief would hold another news conference in the next 48 to 72 hours.
‘I heard her yell’
On Monday night, McCluskey had left a night class and was on her way home to her apartment on campus as she spoke to her mother, Jill, an economics professor at Washington State University.
Jill McCluskey said in a statement Tuesday, “Suddenly, I heard her yell, ‘No, no, no!’ I thought she might have been in a car accident. That was the last I heard from her.”
McCluskey’s father, Matthew, a WSU physics professor, called 911, the statement said, as Jill McCluskey stayed on the line with McCluskey’s phone.
“In a few minutes, a young woman picked up the phone and said all of Lauren’s things were on the ground,” the statement said.
University police responded to a report of a possible abduction about 8:20 p.m., and after reports of gunshots, they discovered McCluskey’s body in a car parked outside the south tower of the Medical Plaza.
Rowland ran from the scene; Brophy said police believe he left campus “within a half hour of the initial call.” A person who picked up Rowland and drove him away from campus was interviewed but was not taken into custody, Brophy said.
About 11:50 p.m., police said Rowland had left the university and “is no longer a threat to campus.”
Police later spotted Rowland and pursued him to Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church, at 239 E. 600 South. He broke down the back door of the church and shot himself in the pastor’s study, according to the Rev. Nurjhan Govan, a retired pastor at the church.
Rowland’s body was discovered around 1:30 a.m., police said. University officials issued an all clear at 1:47 a.m.
"To the best of our knowledge,” Govan said, Rowland never attended Trinity AME Church. "He is a stranger to us. We don’t know why he chose Trinity as a place of refuge.”
Brophy said McCluskey did not have a protective order against Rowland. He repeatedly declined to discuss specifics of the reports McCluskey made to his department and its investigation.
According to McCluskey’s parents, she had dated Rowland for about a month when a friend discovered his identity and his past. Their statement said he had lied about his name, his age and his criminal history.
In 2003, Rowland was charged in state court with offenses that records say happened within two days of each other.
According to an audio recording of Rowland’s 2010 parole hearing, he was in an online chat room in September 2003 and agreed to meet for sex with a person he thought was a 13-year-old girl. He was actually communicating with an investigator from the Utah attorney general’s office.
During the investigation, detectives learned Rowland, then age 21, had two days earlier chatted with a 17-year-old girl and met her at her parent’s house. According to what Rowland admitted to in the parole hearing, he and the girl engaged in some sexual contact, but she did not want to have sex and told him to leave. Rowland refused to leave and forced her to have intercourse, he acknowledged.
In that case, he was accused of a felony count of attempted forcible sexual abuse. In the second case, he was charged with a felony count of enticing a minor over the internet.
He pleaded guilty the following year in both cases. For the sexual abuse charge, he was sentenced to up to five years in prison, with a concurrent term of one to 15 years in the enticement case.
The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole provided audio recordings of Rowland’s parole hearings Tuesday. According to discussions in those hearings, Rowland was born and largely raised in New York.
He was adopted by what one parole hearing officer described as an older couple who died when Rowland was still young. The state of New York placed Rowland in a group home. He later was sent to a school in Boulder, Colo., and earned a high school diploma or certificate.
Rowland spent time at a Buddhist institute in Berkeley, Calif., according to one parole hearing, and then enrolled in JobCorps in Clearfield, Utah. He later studied for a year at Salt Lake County Community College and for two semesters at the University of Utah.
Rowland spent his youth, he admitted in one parole hearing, as a “womanizer” who would lie to women to get them to have sex. During sex-offender treatment, he admitted to having an attraction to underage girls and vulnerable women and said he would seek them out.
“I’d say every woman I met or that I came across I used my manipulation tactics to get what I wanted,” Rowland said in a 2012 hearing.
“How many people did you out and out rape like the one young lady?” the hearing officer asked.
“I’d say,” Rowland replied, “similar to [the 17-year-old], I’d say two.”
According to the hearings, when the prison sent him to the San Juan County jail for sex-offender treatment, he manipulated an employee there to gain internet access.
He was later discharged from treatment for lying to its staff and failing to be forthcoming about his crimes. His failure to finish the program was a factor in why he was not granted parole in 2010. He completed treatment in April 2012 and was paroled the following July.
He returned to prison that September. The recordings show Rowland initially wouldn’t allow his parole agent to search his phone, and when the phone was searched, it showed he had started a Facebook account and viewed pornography. The parole board had said he couldn’t engage in either activity.
The parole board released Rowland again in September 2013. He was returned to prison Feb. 17, 2016, after his agent discovered Rowland had been using social media to meet women for sex. When he returned to prison, according to an episode relayed during the hearing, Rowland said he didn’t want to be paroled again.
A lawyer representing Rowland read a report during the hearing that said “if an agent were to come conduct a field visit, he might become violent.”
The hearing officer, Pegeen Stewart, noted a pattern of Rowland lying and breaking rules for sex.
“I think you have, like, a manipulative cycle,” Stewart said.
Rowland said he was done pursuing vulnerable women for sex. As for the threat of hurting a parole agent, he said he was frustrated and didn’t mean it. Rowland was paroled again on April 17 of this year.
Rowland’s sentence was set to expire in May 2019.
Peggy Fletcher Stack and Kurt Kragthorpe contributed to this report.
Victims of domestic violence can find help by calling the Utah Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-897-LINK.