Press conference, Salt Lake City, June 27, 2019
It is with broken hearts that we stand before you today after the murder of our only daughter Lauren. We loved her dearly.
We taught Lauren that if someone is a law-abiding citizen, it is the police department’s job “to protect and serve” when she asks for help. Matt and I were shocked that campus police’s response and housing’s response to Lauren’s cries for help were incompetent, unaware, skeptical of her, complacent, and uncaring. As one example, on September 30, 2018, Lauren’s friends reported to housing that the man who Lauren recently starting dating was talking about bringing a gun to campus. They did nothing with that information. On Oct. 22, 2018, he brought the gun to campus and killed her with it. That is just one of many failures that resulted in Lauren’s death. If any one of these failures did not occur, Lauren would be alive today.
Even though a review team made 30 recommendations for the university to fix, President Ruth Watkins said, “The report does not offer any reason to believe this tragedy could not have been prevented.” Her statement made me physically ill. Still, we tried to work with Watkins. We repeatedly asked her to take responsibility and hold individuals accountable, including in an email I sent on December 29, 2018. I asked her to partner with us to address clear and obvious deficiencies in safety at the university and also openly admit that people failed Lauren, and that they will be held accountable. I told her that the campus police are being portrayed as undertrained, unaware, and hampered by inappropriate or ineffective policies and procedures. I asked her, who is responsible for managing and leading these units and ensuring that staff are properly trained, aware, responsive, and policies and procedures are effective in providing safety? The performances of those individuals have failed, with fatal consequences, and they need to be held responsible. I specifically pointed out that professional incompetence and dereliction of duty must be considered in the case of Officer Deras for not reporting or documenting the impersonation of a police officer that was reported to him by Lauren.
President Watkins never responded to that email. The university has taken no responsibility for Lauren’s preventable death. No one has been disciplined or held accountable in the campus police or Housing. The same culture prevails in the campus police. There is no significant change.
Matt and I realized that the only way to improve campus safety is to file a lawsuit. This is a last resort to affect positive change. If the University of Utah must pay a large amount, it will be in their best interest to believe women and act with urgency when their female students ask for help. Insurance companies will identify poor response to female students as a risk factor.
I emphasize that we will not profit from this lawsuit. Any money will go to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, to support student athletes, and to pay expenses.
The University of Utah is on the wrong side of history in how they handled Lauren’s case and how they responded to her death. Women must be believed and taken seriously when they ask for help. We are confident that with the help of this cause of action, the University of Utah will become a safer place for the current and future daughters who obtain an education there.
I am speaking today without happiness, anger, or malice, as a father who has lost a light in his life.
Lauren was beautiful woman in all respects, poised, kind, and thoughtful, pleased about her life and excited for her the future.
I do not want to be in this world without Lauren, but, being stuck here, have no choice but to try and make this world better. Toward that end, Jill and I are committed to improve campus safety.
We had hoped for an adult conversation with the University of Utah administration, to work with them to build a safer future for all of their students. Regrettably, the administration has chosen the path of defensiveness, denial, and no accountability. Their refusal to take responsibility will only perpetuate this flawed culture. We cannot stand by while students are imperiled.
It is with the greatest reluctance that we have chosen the last resort of legal action. Our only profit will be the somber satisfaction of saving lives.
We want the University of Utah, and all academic institutions, to be places of learning, where students worry about midterms and not survival. Through our legal action, we hope to prod the University of Utah to become a responsible institution. At a responsible university,
When students are harassed, they are not told “there is nothing we can do,” they are told, “let me help you.”
When a dispatcher assures a mother that her daughter is safe, it is the truth and not a mirage.
Campus police go after the bad guys and never tell a woman that the suspect “seems like a good guy.”
Rather than dismissing the repeated concerns expressed by six women, a responsible university responds with urgency to one phone call.
When a crime is committed – whether it is bringing an unlicensed gun to campus, extortion, or impersonating an officer – police take action.
When mistakes occur, a responsible university does not hand out awards, but rather holds people accountable.
Jill and I really have two goals: honor Lauren’s memory and make the world better. The University of Utah has yet to take responsibility. Taking responsibility is the right thing to do, it honors Lauren, and, most importantly it will make students safer. Through our actions, we hope to ensure that future students have the chance to live long and beautiful lives.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Lauren McCluskey. Let her light shine.
My name is Dan Bernardo and I am a friend of the McCluskey family. I have also served as a dean, a provost, and an interim president of a comprehensive research university similar to the University of Utah (UU). Today, I am speaking as a private citizen and not as an administrator or representative of my university; however, I am drawing from my 25 years of experience as a university administrator.
The set of experiences that led to Lauren’s death quite simply should not have occurred. Student safety must be the number one priority of every college or university, and I am sure the UU administration would agree. Nonetheless, the chain of events that occurred prior to Lauren’s murder provide vivid evidence that best management practices and basic safeguards were not in place to protect Lauren. The breakdowns occurred through numerous units across the university, including the police department, student housing, the Center for Student Wellness, and Student Affairs.
The report of the committee commissioned by the president to conduct an independent review of campus safety at the UU included 30 specific recommendations. Most of these recommendations were not at all discerning, but rather basic practices and policies and commonsense steps that should have been in place long before Lauren was taken away from us.
Although Lauren’s violent death was devastating to our family, I remained publicly silent because I know first-hand how difficult student tragedies can be on college administrations. But my public silence has been broken by how this case has been handled since Lauren’s death.
After all that has been revealed, stating and restating that the independent report “does not offer any reason to believe that this tragedy could have been prevented” is absurd.
Failing to hold anyone accountable through any form of discipline is irresponsible.
Honoring employees for their action during the days leading up to Lauren’s death is disrespectful.
And, responding to Dateline’s requests by sending the VP for Student Affairs to be interviewed who was not in a position to answer any pertinent questions was clearly an effort to deflect accountability to the public.
The Vice President’s emotional response to the Dateline reporter included the rhetorical statement, “Do you know how difficult this has been on the University Administration?”; to which I would respond, “Not a fraction of what this avoidable tragedy has had and will continue to have on Lauren’s friends and family.”
I preface my brief remarks by stating that I am providing my own perspectives as a private citizen, and not speaking on behalf of the McCluskeys or on behalf of my employer, Washington State University.
Of the many blessings in my life, one surely was being able to observe and contribute to Lauren McCluskey’s evolution from a 1½ year-old toddler to a warm, bright, successful, caring, beautiful, and gentle 21-year-old.
Since the end of last October, I have been following this case closely. I have spoken at various events about Lauren, and have written four Op Eds, two each published in the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News. I have interacted with Utah’s Governor, Lt. Governor, University of Utah Board of Trustees, the Chief of the University Police, and the President of the University of Utah, among others. I believe I am informed and engaged.
The recent NBC Dateline one-hour nationally broadcast special on the Lauren tragedy was correct in being named “Lauren did everything right”. In stark contrast, and with fatal consequences, a myriad of failures were committed by the University of Utah, including the campus police, university housing, and perhaps also university counseling.
A cruel irony is that Lauren was a person who cared deeply about others, and there are numerous stories about her coming to the support and protection of others in need. In stark contrast, when she was in desperate need of support and protection herself, her and her friends’ numerous explicit factual reports, requests, and pleas for action and assistance from the University of Utah were ignored.
Make no mistake about it: it was people who failed Lauren McCluskey. It was failure of leadership, and failure of any meaningful and effective engagement by staff to assist and protect her.
The last two weeks of this gentle soul’s existence were spent in a state of increasing worry that grew into outright fear, desperation, and an elevating acute frustration that no one at the University was doing anything at all to help her. And then, at the end of those two terrible weeks, while on the phone talking with her mother and father, she was forcibly dragged into the back of a car by a convicted sexual abuser-felon on parole, who was allowed to roam free and unencumbered, and he emptied a gun clip into that gentle soul while her parents listened desperately on the other end of the cell phone connection for signs of their daughter.
In my view, through incompetence, negligence, carelessness, and/or indifference, individuals at the University are complicit in the murder of Lauren McCluskey. Holding those people responsible and accountable is critical to protecting the daughters, and sons, who currently attend the U. Adjusting policies and procedures is insufficient -- It’s people who implement policies and procedures.
Neglecting to correct the people who failed in this case will continue to place University of Utah students at risk. Addressing accountability and responsibility at the U is long overdue – but it will occur.