A 19-year-old University of Utah student called police for help in January after she said her boyfriend attacked her. Little more than a month later, that man has now been charged in her Feb. 11 killing.
Haoyu Wang, 26, was charged Friday with murder and two counts of possession of illicit drugs with the intent to distribute in connection with the death of Zhifan Dong. Both were international students at the U. from China.
“Our office intends to do everything in our power to bring a measure of justice for the victim and [her] family,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said in a statement Friday on the charges. Wang is being held in jail without bail.
Gill called it “a tragic case” and said he met this week with Dong’s parents, who flew to Salt Lake City after their daughter’s death. University leaders also have met with her parents. U. spokesperson Chris Nelson said the family is currently asking for privacy as they grieve.
Dong was a freshman at the U. who came to the school through Utah Global, which helps immerse first-year international students in the academic and cultural life of the university. She was from Anyang, Henan province, China.
Police say she was killed in a domestic violence situation earlier this month at a Salt Lake City motel. The slaying happened about a month after a previous Jan. 12 domestic violence-related call from Dong that Salt Lake City officers also responded to.
The charging documents Friday confirmed for the first time that Dong was the reported victim in that January call. Wang was charged at the time with domestic violence-related assault, according to court documents. He told police that he had hit Dong in the head during an argument. Emergency responders noted that Dong had a lump where she said she was hurt.
The day after the incident, Dong “called police again due to Wang’s behavior,” the court filing notes.
A Salt Lake City police spokesperson declined to comment on what resources were offered to Dong at that point, if any, or whether they called the U. to inform the school about the assault. A U. spokesperson said he was not aware of the university being alerted to the situation in January.
That sharing of information between departments should now be common practice, following the murder of U. student Lauren McCluskey. And others schools in the state, such as Southern Utah University, work with their local municipal police departments to communicate on cases involving students.
Dong 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 were killed as a result of intimate partner violence.
Dong was found dead at a Quality Inn at 616 S. 200 West during a welfare check by Salt Lake City police, in a room that had been registered to Wang since Feb. 3. Officers were called there after the U.’s police department alerted them that Wang had allegedly made threats to Dong, whom he identified as his girlfriend.
Charging documents released Friday state that Wang had emailed a U. employee and stated he and Dong were going to use drugs to “have a painless death.” The message indicated that the couple would be dead before they were found.
Salt Lake City police, assisting University of Utah officers, arrived at the motel after pinging Dong’s cellphone location.
Wang told police that he and Dong intended to die by suicide together, and that he had ordered drugs on the “dark net” using bitcoin, according to the probable cause statement. Wang said they both took those drugs, and Dong became unresponsive.
Documents state Wang fell asleep, and when he woke up, he noticed Dong was having trouble breathing. Instead of calling an ambulance, the court filings state, he injected her with a larger dose of drugs. She then died.
Wang told police he then injected himself with drugs again and remained in the room until officers arrived.
U. President Taylor Randall has expressed sympathy for Dong’s death and condolences to her family. He said the campus is mourning “the tragic death of one of our own,” especially Dong’s peers in school’s international student program.
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.