A man suspected of killing a University of Utah student and track athlete was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in a church near campus.
The suspect, identified as Melvin Rowland was suspected of killing 21-year-old Lauren McCluskey, a senior from Pullman, Washington.
Chief Dale Brophy, of the University of Utah Police, said law enforcement officials located Rowland downtown early Tuesday after receiving a tip.
“A foot pursuit ensued. The suspect ran into a church, at which point he took his own life,” Brophy said.
McCluskey, a University of Utah student and track athlete, who was allegedly shot and killed on campus by Rowland, a former boyfriend. McCluskey had filed a police complaint against him after she learned he was a sex offender and broke off the relationship, authorities said Tuesday.
The victim’s mother, Jill McCluskey, said her daughter had filed a harassment complaint after breaking up with 37-year-old Melvin Rowland.
McCluskey had dated Rowland for about a month then ended the relationship on Oct. 9 when she learned he had lied about his age, name and criminal history, Jill McCluskey said in a statement.
At about 8:30 pm on Monday, Jill McCluskey called police telling them something happened to her daughter and officers were needed in the area.
She was on the phone with her daughter when she was shot after returning home from class.
After an investigation, McCluskey was found dead in the back seat of a vehicle and began a large manhunt for Rowland.
Rowland had spent nearly a decade in prison after pleading guilty to trying to lure an underage girl online and attempted sex abuse charges, according to court records.
Rowland was charged with two separate crimes in September 2003, said then-prosecutor Paul Amann. He was caught in an online sex crimes sting when a police officer posed as a 13-year-old girl. After he was charged, a woman came forward to report he had sexually assaulted her after a separate online meeting.
“He was just out of control. He had no self-control,” Amann said Tuesday.
Rowland pleaded guilty to enticing a minor over the internet and attempted forcible sex abuse in an agreement with prosecutors, records show. His defense attorney did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Rowland was released from prison in 2012 after serving eight years and has twice been sent back from halfway houses after violating his parole, Utah prison spokeswoman Kaitlin Felsted said. He was most recently paroled in April and was living on his own.
Lauren McCluskey was found shot in a car Monday night near student housing. Rowland killed himself overnight at a church after police tracked him down, authorities said.
Initial reports of the shooting sparked panic on the Salt Lake City campus. University officials ordered students to stay in place for about three hours as they searched for the gunman.
“It was really scary to look out the window and see. I saw 15 to 20 police officers right where we’re standing right now,” student Tyler told the Deseret News. “I mean, you’re in your home, but nowhere feels safe in that moment.”
Jill McCluskey said she and her daughter had been talking on the phone when she heard her yell, “‘No, no, no.'” A few minutes later, a woman picked up the phone and said all of Lauren McCluskey’s belongings were on the ground.
“I thought she might have been in a car accident,” Jill McCluskey said. “That was the last I heard from her.”
Lauren McCluskey was majoring in communication and was excited to graduate next spring, said her mother, a professor at Washington State University, adding that her daughter was a Washington state high jump champion in high school and loved to sing.
University President Ruth Watkins said classes were canceled Tuesday and a vigil would be held Wednesday night.
“As a campus community, we share grief over this tragic loss of life,” Watkins said in a statement.
Athletics Director Mark Harlan said counselors and psychologists were available to support McCluskey’s teammates, coaches and friends. He said she was a proud Ute and an outstanding student-athlete.
“This isn’t right,” Harlan said. “I don’t really have any words. My heart goes out to her family. … When something like this happens, it defies any logic, any reason.”
The events occurred a year after a fatal shooting near campus shook the state’s flagship university.
Chenwei Guo, 23, a University of Utah student from China, was fatally shot by an ex-convict who used a gun stolen after another slaying in Colorado.
Last month, Austin Boutain, 24, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to the killing.
Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed to this report from Phoenix and writer Lindsay Whitehurst from Salt Lake City.