Police identify 19-year-old University of Utah student killed at motel

Zhifan Dong, according to the U., was a freshman from China.

Police have identified the University of Utah student killed last week as 19-year-old Zhifan Dong.

She was an international student and a freshman at the U., according to a statement Monday from university President Taylor Randall. She had come to the school from Anyang, Henan, China.

Officers have notified her family in China about her death, police confirmed Monday. And Randall said her parents are planning to travel to Salt Lake City in coming days to mourn the loss of their daughter.

“I want to express my deepest sympathy to Zhifan’s family, friends and loved ones,” Randall added.

He said the campus is also mourning “the tragic death of one of our own,” especially Dong’s peers in school’s international student program. Dong was a member of Utah Global, which helps immerse first-year international students in the academic and cultural life of the university.

Police say Dong was killed in a domestic violence situation on Friday at a Salt Lake City motel. She is the second Chinese student at the U. to be killed in less than five years. Previously, student ChenWei Guo was shot east of campus in October 2017.

In that same time frame, three female students have previously died from intimate partner violence. Another woman, who was an employee at the U., was killed by her estranged husband in a campus parking lot in 2016.

Two other students at the U. have also recently been killed: Aaron Lowe in 2021 and Ty Jordan in 2020, both of whom were football players.

In connection with Dong’s death, officers have arrested a 26-year-old man, also an international U. student from China, a school spokesperson confirmed. The man has not been charged.

Dong was found dead at a Quality Inn on 616 S. 200 West during a welfare check by Salt Lake City police, in a room registered to the man. Officers had been called there after the U.’s police department alerted them that the man had allegedly made threats to Dong, whom he identified as his girlfriend.

According to a statement of probable cause, the man sent an email to a University of Utah employee that stated he had injected Dong with drugs to “relieve her from suffering.” The email indicated that the couple would be dead before they were found.

Salt Lake City police, assisting University of Utah officers, arrived at the Quality Inn after pinging Dong’s cellphone location.

The suspect reportedly told police that he and Dong intended to die by suicide together, and that he had ordered drugs on the “dark net,” according to the probable cause statement. The suspect said they both took those drugs, and Dong became unresponsive.

He said he then injected her with more drugs, and Dong died, according to the document. The suspect then injected himself again and remained in the room until police arrived, he allegedly told police.

Salt Lake City homicide detectives continue to investigate.

Court records show the man had previously been charged with one count of assault for domestic violence in mid-January.

According to the documents, the suspect allegedly assaulted someone on Jan. 12 at 171 W. 500 South, minutes from the location of the motel he was found in Friday. He was scheduled to appear in court for that charge on Feb. 16.

Editor’s note Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, are urged to call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 1-888-421-1100. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support at 1-800-273-8255.