SALT LAKE CITY — On what would have been her 24th birthday, the Utah Senate honored slain University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey and her family on Friday.
"She was grappling with abuse, but also something known as institutional failure. It's important for us as lawmakers to be aware of the realities that exist in our communities," said Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, as he introduced a citation in honor of the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.
Kitchen said Lauren would've been just a few years younger than himself.
"Institutional betrayal happens in the context where a victim trusted an institution like the military or a university, but then they are mistreated after seeking help while experiencing primarily gender-based violence," Kitchen said.
Oct. 22, 2018, McCluskey, a 21-year-old track star, was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend Melvin Rowland, 37, after he abducted her in the parking lot outside of her dorm on the University of Utah campus. In the days leading up to murder, McCluskey had sought help from university police, who failed to so much as perform a background check on Rowland to see he was on parole.
Kitchen said "institutional inaction created an environment in which similar traumatic events seemed more likely."
I just wanted to say happy birthday to Lauren. Let her light shine long ...
–Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay
"This impacted other survivors trying to escape abusive relationships as well as women who worried about how they would be treated if they tried to come forward," Kitchen said.
Inaction by law enforcement "not only betrayed Lauren, but the community at large. They created an environment in which survivors felt and were less safe."
The Lauren McCluskey Foundation advocates for campus safety, athletics and animal welfare.
"I just wanted to say happy birthday to Lauren. Let her light shine long, and I've gotten to know her family very well ... and they're an amazing family," said Senate Minority Assistant Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay.
She promised that "people will remember her, and she won't be forgotten."
"Thank you to @derekkitchen & the Utah State Legislature for this citation honoring Lauren & the work @LMC_Foundation is doing in her name. We are thankful for all the legislators who are working to pass laws to make campuses safer & hold police accountable. #ForLauren," Jill McCluskey, Lauren's mother, tweeted later Friday.
University President Ruth Watkins and McCluskey's parents announced in October that they had reached a $13.5 million settlement in their two lawsuits against the university. The state Legislature and governor need to sign off on the settlement during this session before it becomes final.