Documents released regarding the death of University of Utah student Zhifan Dong revealed that housing staff neglected to act despite multiple domestic violence reports filed by the victim.
On Feb. 11, Salt Lake City police responded to reports from the University of Utah police department that a man was threatening to kill his girlfriend.
The responding officers found the 19-year-old student dead next to her former boyfriend, Haoyu Wang, in a motel room outside of campus.
Wang, 26, told investigators that he had killed Dong before trying to take his own life with drugs. Based on court documents, he was charged with murder and will face a competency hearing on Aug. 8.
Based on the timeline that the University of Utah shared on Tuesday, they knew that Dong already felt she was in danger weeks before her death.
The documents revealed that on Jan. 14, Dong told the university’s housing staff about Wang’s suicidal tendencies. She also informed them that he was arrested following a fight with her two days prior.
While she received a temporary protective order from the police, the university noted that there is “no process or regulation requiring local police departments to notify colleges or universities of arrests or protective orders involving students.”
Dong’s schoolmate and roommate Bailey McGartland said the crime could have been prevented since she has helped Dong file reports of domestic violence and requested wellness checks in the past.
“I felt so angry,” McGartland told campus paper Daily Utah Chronicle. “It was absolutely preventable.”
According to the documents, the staff failed to notify the university’s police department about violence reports filed against Wang.
It was also revealed that the housing staff repeatedly confused Dong’s name with Wang’s during a meeting. Another critical error was displayed when university officials called the number of another student who shared the same name as Haoyu Wang before eventually connecting to the right Wang.
University President Taylor Randall said the timeline provides evidence of “insufficient and unprofessional internal communication,” and “processes, procedures and trainings in housing that needed to be clarified and improved.”
In discipline letters sent in March, school administrators scolded the housing staff for not following “policy and procedures for mandatory reporting,” which should have classified her concern as a higher priority.
In a statement to NBC News, Dong’s parents Junfang Shen and Mingsheng Dong condemned the university for having “failed” their daughter.
“We trusted the University of Utah with our daughter’s safety, and they betrayed that trust,” the couple from China’s Henan province said. “They knew Zhifan was in serious danger but failed to protect her when she needed it the most. We do not want her death to be in vain.”
According to the lawyer representing Dong’s family, they are planning to sue the university for failing to protect Dong.