PULLMAN - The kidnapping and murder of a student at the University of Utah is sending shock waves across the nation but it’s impacting our region even more. The victim, Lauren McCluskey, is a Pullman native. The 21 year-old was a national caliber track and field athlete and to those who knew her well, she was a beautiful person both inside and out.
“That beautiful smile, that desire to be just the best that she could be and not just an athlete everything in her life,” track coach Charlie Powell said.
Powell coached Lauren at the Spire Institute in Ohio before Lauren went off to be a track star at the University of Utah. Powell says Lauren left Pullman High School her senior year to train with him.
Lauren is being remembered as someone who was strong, self-aware and kind. Powell says she got those traits from her parents.
“Her parents did an absolutely fantastic job of raising her. She was very much a people person,” Powell said.
The University of Utah canceled classes on Tuesday because of the tragedy.
“As a parent of a college student myself I can’t imagine what they are going through,” University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy said.
“There is no normal reaction to something like this, everyone hug those you love,” Dean of Students Lori McDonald said.
“Incredible student, my heart and my entire department goes out to her parents I’ve been texting with her mom,” Athletics Director Mark Harlan said.
Lauren’s mom tweeted a statement.
“Lauren previously dated her killer for about one month. He lied about his name, his age, and his criminal history.”
Jill McCluskey says her daughter was informed by a friend about the lies and broke up with her boyfriend. Lauren reported him to police after being harassed. Police say Melvin Rowland is that former boyfriend who they were investigating before he kidnapped and killed Lauren.
Her mom was on the phone with Lauren at the time of the kidnapping.
On Twitter, her mom wrote:
“She was returning to her university apartment from her night class and talking to me on the phone. 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.”
“I can’t decide to be sad or mad I mostly can’t believe it,” high school friend Tomas Stoker said.
Stoker says he went to Pullman High School with Lauren. The small community is grieving her loss.
“In the athletic community she is definitely the best Pullman ever had, Lauren was always the shy person but whenever someone needed a shoulder to lean on, someone to talk to, everyone knew that you could go to Lauren,” Stoker said.
Lauren was a 2015 honors graduate of Pullman High School .
Her mom says she was also the Washington state champion in the high jump and school record holder in the 100-meter hurdles.
The senior communications major was less than a year away from graduating college.