Oct. 22 (UPI) -- The University of Utah announced a $13.5 million settlement to the parents of slain student-athlete Lauren McCluskey, on Thursday, the two-year anniversary of her death.
The university said in the settlement that the on-campus murder two years ago was "preventable."
"The University of Utah acknowledges that the murder of Lauren McCluskey was a brutal, senseless, and preventable tragedy and acknowledges the unspeakable loss the McCluskey family has suffered and continues to suffer," the agreement posted on the university's website states.
The agreement settles two lawsuits, Lauren's parents, Jill and Matthew McCluskey, filed against the university, including a federal lawsuit that sought $56 million, and a wrongful death lawsuit in state court, Deseret News reported.
"Lauren McCluskey will always be associated with the need to to more carefully monitor and make safe our nation's campuses," family attorney co-counsel Brad Parker said in a prepared statement. "Because of Lauren and the cause that bears her name, lives will be saved."
Lauren's parents agreed in the settlement that the university has made progress in improving campus safety through support of research, a new Center for Violence Prevention, a new Chief Safety officer, and significant changes to the culture and training of the campus police.
University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said during a press conference that the university community was "sincerely sorry" to the parents for "the loss of their daughter, Lauren, a stellar student, a gifted athlete and a person we were honored to have at the University of Utah."
"The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren's case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren's situation," Watkins added, reading from a prepared university statement. "As a result, we failed Lauren and her family. If these employees had more complete training protocols to guide their responses, the university believes they would have been better equipped to protect Lauren."
The remarks were in contrast with her insistence after the murder that there wasn't "any reason to believe this tragedy could have been prevented," the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The remarks followed an independent review that showed several mistakes officers made, overall police failure to recognize warning signs of escalating interpersonal violence, and 30 fixes that could improve future response.
"With our commitment to learning from our mistakes, we honor Lauren, and we ensure that her legacy will be improved campus safety for all students," Watkins said at the press conference Thursday.
McCluskey, a 21-year-old senior communication major and member of the school's track-and-field team, was fatally shot to death on campus on Oct. 22, 2018, by Melvin Shawn Rowland after weeks of his stalking and harassment. Hours later, Rowland fatally shot himself as police got close to making an arrest.
It was later learned that she had sought help for weeks from the University of Utah police to no avail, Deseret News reported.
Lauren had called the campus police department more than 20 times reporting her concerns about Rowland, who she had ended a relationship with after she found out he had lied about his name, age, and criminal history, and his prison time for attempted forcible sexual abuse and enticing a minor.
Rowland also threatened to release compromising photos of her if she did not pay him $1,000, according to police.
Lauren's mother Jill McCluskey said at the press conference that the state, through its risk management agency and insurance provider, will pay $10.5 million of the settlement, and the university will pay another $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.
"This settlement is important for many reasons," Jill McCluskey said. "It addresses how she died. But it also honors how she lived. All the money from the settlement will go to support the Lauren McCluskey Foundation missions, which include campus safety, animal welfare and amateur athletics."
Jill McCluskey added that during the winter, track athletes like her daughter at the university had to commute about 45 minutes to the Olympic Oval in Kearns, and the university has pledged as part of the settlement to build an athletic facility that will include an indoor track that will be named after Lauren.
"With this, we are honored that she will always have a presence on the campus in helping the athletes and the sport that Lauren was so dedicated to," Lauren's mom said. "We're also honored that her name will be associated with the Center for Violence Prevention."
"Most of all we have hope for the future, and we hope not only that the University of Utah is a safer place, but that campuses will be safer nationwide because of what we are doing with the foundation," she added.
Father Matthew McCluskey added that professors worldwide are now voluntarily taking part in "Lauren's promise," where they pledge they will help students find resources they need if they are in trouble.