“No, no, no!” were the last words University of Utah senior Lauren McCluskey said to her mother. Jill McCluskey was on the phone with her daughter the night of Oct. 22, 2018, when the line suddenly went dead.
“I though she might have been in a car accident,” Jill McCluskey said in the days after her daughter’s death. Lauren McCluskey, a track star and communications student, was attacked by her ex-boyfriend, Melvin Rowland. He dragged the 21-year-old to a car, where he shot and killed her.
In the weeks before her death, McCluskey – who Utah track coach Kyle Kepler described as relentlessly driven and kind – had filed a harassment report against Rowland with the University of Utah campus police weeks before her death. Rowland, a registered sex offender, reported to a parole officer, but that person was never notified of the complaint, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“What happened at the U. is a tragedy,” says Junior Martinez, the president of Salt Lake Community College’s Student Association. “Could it have been prevented?”
A study by the New York Crime Commission, which studies universities and two-year colleges across the United States, showed that there was a 153 percent increase in shooting incidents from the 2001-02 school year to 2015-16 school year. The report investigated 140 colleges and found at least 190 incidents that occurred on or near a college campus.
12 shooting incidents occurred in the 2010-11 school year; there were 30 incidents five years later.
With the news of McCluskey’s untimely death reaching across the Salt Lake Valley, SLCC is reminding students that safety is a top priority.
“You have to take [campus safety] seriously being in this position,” says Martinez. “We haven’t been put in a situation … to say we are ready. It’s [a] tough question.”
Fortunately, SLCC is a relatively safe campus, with two counts of assault over the last three years, according to the 2018 annual crime report. The most prominent crime on campus is petty theft, with 98 accounts of theft in 2017.
Martinez says the SLCCSA also frequently hears complaints about stolen items.
SLCC has an extensive list of security procedures on the school website. It covers everything from violence on campus to airborne contaminants.
According to the annual crime report, SLCC recommends that, in an event of an active shooter, students can make a choice to run, fight or hide.
Shea Smelser, a geology major and student at SLCC, has questions about the current system.
“Where are the campus police?” she asks. “I don’t know. Do we even have any?”
Smelser says she would have “no idea” where to go, indicating a disconnect between policies and what students know about those policies. She wants to see training or an explanation of security policies to students, even suggesting an online course students could take to get quickly educated.
Smelser also notes that, while she doesn’t feel unsafe on campus, the thought of a school shooting is on her mind.
“[School shootings] seem so frequent,” she says. “People think they know what they’ll do in that situation, but I just feel like it’d be chaos.”
The aftermath of active shooting situations often wreak havoc on students and faculty not just during the incident but well after. The psychological effects are extensive and varied, according to the American Psychological Association.
This is one reason why SLCC’s counseling center is ready to make itself, “as available as possible after something traumatic,” says Scott Kadera, the counseling services manager. He wants students to know that the counseling team at SLCC is going to be there for them.
“We are available for anyone to come in and talk,” he says. “The center will make itself available, so students can come in and have a safe space for students to work through it.”
SLCC has also created a behavioral intervention team to protect “at risk” students from others and themselves.
“Since I’ve been at SLCC, there has been a constant want to improve on public safety,” says Kadera, who works on the team. “It’s not likely we will experience a school shooting, but remain vigilant and if you see something, say something.”
With a trifecta of an engaged student association, administrative polices and a supportive staff, SLCC appears to be ready for anything. Though it hasn’t executed its policies perfectly in the past, it strives to improve.
Martinez embodies this growth mindset by asking, “What can we, as an institution, do for you?”