Editors note: This post was updated 8/04/2022
Publicly available documentation:
The University of Utah continues to mourn the passing of Zhifan Dong, a first-year student from China allegedly killed by a fellow student, Haoyu Wang, on Feb. 11, 2022.
Today, the university released a detailed timeline, internal review and all publicly available university documentation related to Dong’s death. The release of this information was delayed based on an active criminal investigation and a request made by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
The timeline and related actions reveal a complex mix of behavioral health challenges, underlying staffing shortages, intimate partner violence, off-campus events, missing persons and alleged criminal actions.
The timeline and actions also reveal that university staff, police and international partners took extensive efforts to support Dong and Wang, including more than 25 actions over a 29-day period (from Jan. 12 to Feb. 11, 2022) to meet, text, email and video conference with the students and friends; review access logs; speak with family; file missing person reports; canvass local hotels; and provide aid.
Despite these efforts, the university acknowledges shortcomings in its response to this complex situation, including insufficient and unprofessional communications, a need for clarity in the training of housing workers and a delay in notifying university police and the Office of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Title IX of indications of intimate partner violence. These immediate deficiencies have all been addressed, including corrective actions with employees.
The university will continue to be transparent and share information related to Dong’s death, listen to suggestions on how we can improve and take actions to better protect students, staff and faculty.
“When it comes to protecting our students, our job is never done,” said President Taylor Randall in an open letter to students, faculty, staff and the community. “I’ve challenged university senior leaders to leave no stone unturned as we seek additional ways to enhance safety.” Randall also pledged to lead “through transparency, by taking action and by constantly improving.”
Known interactions with the students
The detailed log of events shows that while the university’s Housing and Residential Education (HRE) staff were in regular contact with and providing aid to the two international students, the university’s police and student conduct staff were not immediately notified by housing of indications of an intimate partner violence situation involving the two students, per the university’s guidelines.
Once the University of Utah Police Department (UUPD), Utah Global and the U’s Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) were made aware of the situation, including a physical altercation that occurred off campus on Jan. 12 between 19-year-old Dong and 26-year-old Wang, university police initiated a broad and urgent effort to find the students. In partnership with a variety of university offices, these efforts included texts, emails, video calls, outreach to parents, filing of missing person reports and canvassing of local hotels. On Feb. 11, Wang was arrested and charged with murder after he allegedly injected Dong with a fatal dose of heroin and fentanyl.
University Chief Safety Officer Keith Squires said the case involves a complex mix of behavioral health challenges, alleged intimate partner violence, missing persons, housing staff shortages and a criminal investigation.
“No life should ever end in such tragic circumstances,” Squires said. “As soon as our police learned of the intimate partner violence between these two students, our officers launched a comprehensive and deliberate search for Zhifan Dong and Haoyu Wang in coordination with Salt Lake City Police. We remain saddened that we were unable to locate them in time.”
The timeline provides additional context
The release of information includes the initial police contact report filed in a missing person’s case involving Dong. The Utah State Records Committee ordered the report be released to the public after a June hearing where university attorneys sought to protect the document as requested by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office while the prosecution of Wang proceeds. Wang is currently in the Salt Lake County Jail, awaiting a competency hearing in his case.
University leaders released the information to provide additional context to the case while reminding the campus community of the systems and processes in place to support students in crisis.
The reporting gap identified in the university’s timeline was a delay in housing staff notifying university police and student conduct staff of indications that there may have been an active intimate partner violence situation involving the two students. On Feb. 8, after additional university offices became involved, university police identified a protective order issued against Wang on Jan. 12.
University leaders immediately investigated the situation and reviewed trainings, procedures and processes and identified that HRE staff missed key indicators and delayed reporting to other campus offices. To address this, updates were made to the emergency procedures manual, and several additional improvements have been, and continue to be, implemented. The university also took corrective action with those housing employees involved directly in the incident. Two employees resigned before the investigation concluded and corrective actions were taken with the remaining three employees.
HRE Executive Director Sean Grube, who joined the U in March 2022 after Dong’s alleged murder, notes all housing staff will receive updated and revamped emergency procedures training for the current 2022-23 academic year.
“We have restructured our trainings for housing staff,” Grube said. “We are committed to consulting with outside experts to help us rethink how we do things.”
“I expect our staff to recognize signs of intimate partner violence and take the appropriate steps to provide support and resources to our students and to escalate these types of situations, as necessary,” said Lori McDonald, vice president for student affairs. “In this case, key details were overlooked and staff failed to make connections with other parts of campus that could have accelerated the university’s ability to gather additional information and respond more urgently. This is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Detailing multiple points of contact
On Jan. 12, Salt Lake City Police arrested Wang after an intimate partner violence assault at an off-campus motel. Wang told police he had hit Dong in the head during an argument. The next day, according to court documents, Dong called the SLCPD and HRE with concerns about Wang’s well-being. HRE staff asked Mental Health First Responders (MH1)—an after-hours housing crisis support program—to conduct a wellness check, but they were not able to connect with Wang.
Housing staff spoke at length with Dong and documented the interactions in a case management software platform, but the incident was not reported to the Office of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Title IX (OEO), the Office of the Dean of Students or the UUPD, as required. Housing staff continued to check on both students over the next three weeks, often making contact.
University Safety leaders note that they did not learn of the two students and their intimate partner violence history until missing person reports were filed by BIT and HRE, both on Feb. 8.
“Our processes for progressive student discipline and behavioral health care intervention are essential,” said Jason Ramirez, associate vice president and dean of students. “As soon as the appropriate staff were alerted to this history between the two students, the university’s student conduct and safety protocols kicked into high gear.”
From that point on, Squires said, UUPD officers, in collaboration with the Salt Lake City Police Department, intensified the search effort. They pinged both students’ phones, canvassed downtown hotels and called both students repeatedly.
UUPD, HRE and Utah Global staff actions related to Dong:
- Responded to her request for help with Wang’s behavioral health on Jan. 14, two days after the Jan. 12 incident. This is the first indication the university receives of a possible intimate partner violence altercation.
- Initiated four missing persons reports for Dong.
- Reviewed security card access code logs to determine when Dong had last accessed her residential building and/or campus services.
- Canvassed at least seven downtown hotels with photos of both students between Feb. 8 and 11 following pings from Dong’s cellphone that narrowed her location to within a 1-mile radius.
- Video called, phoned and texted multiple times with Dong between Jan. 14 and Feb. 11.
- Arranged and participated in a phone call between university staff and Dong’s mother on Feb. 9.
UUPD, HRE and Utah Global staff actions related to Wang:
- Attempted to contact Wang more than a dozen times, including in-person visits to his residence hall, classroom, calling, texting and emailing.
- Met Wang in person on Jan. 24 during a wellness check, where he self-reported a counseling appointment that afternoon and said he needed no further assistance.
- Phoned and emailed to remind Wang of potential disciplinary action due to low course hours and a protective order stemming from the Jan. 12 incident.
- Arranged an on-campus meeting between Wang and HRE administrators set for Feb. 11, the day of the alleged murder.
Frequently Asked Questions
Currently, there is no process or regulation requiring local police departments to notify colleges or universities of arrests or protective orders involving students.
Once a missing person report was filed by housing officials, the University of Utah Police Department (UUPD) quickly discovered the protective order and the Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) case file regarding the Jan. 12 incident via a records check through the Utah Criminal Justice Information System.
The university is only made aware of protective orders when victim-survivors notify a staff or faculty member. Once administrators learn about a protective order from a victim-survivor, the case is referred to the appropriate on-campus authorities—police, Housing and Residential Education (HRE) administrators or HR managers—who may reach out to the complainant/survivor and alleged perpetrator to discuss the requirements of the protective order.
Administrators primarily rely on the University of Utah Police Department (UUPD) to enforce any violations of protective orders. In this case, the Office of the Dean of Students or HRE would assist UUPD in communicating when violations occur and then serve to provide resources to both the victim-survivor and the respondent. If the violation of the protective order is a violation of policy, the university would adjudicate it through its Code of Rights and Responsibilities and work with UUPD crime victim advocates to create safety plans for impacted parties.
Even with protective orders, all alleged offenders are afforded due process under university regulations. Employees may continue working in the same office spaces, and students may continue living in the same buildings—so long as they do not violate the terms of the protective order.
- A new executive director for Housing and Residential Education (HRE) started in March 2022, and immediately hired a consultant to review the department’s emergency procedures manual. This consultant’s recommendations are being implemented in HRE’s employee trainings and emergency response for the current 2022-23 academic year.
- Housing restructured its organization and created a new position to support conduct and support processes and reduce the hierarchy for reporting. Additionally, it increased compensation rates for certain positions to be more competitive and address staffing shortages.
- Housing, in collaboration with the Office of the Dean of Students, is creating a new position that will provide additional support to review cases submitted to both offices.
- The emergency procedures manual was updated to more clearly define how and what information should be documented for all incident reports. Supervisors will conduct spot checks throughout the year to verify that staff members are documenting thoroughly and consistently.
- The case management system used in housing was updated during the Spring 2022 Semester to more effectively notify other university partners, specifically the Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and the Behavioral Intervention Team. Now, all housing employees and student leaders can indicate whether an incident should be shared with these partners, rather than just supervisory staff. When an employee clicks these buttons in the case management system, the relevant offices are now notified automatically and receive a copy of the report. Additionally, instructions regarding this process, including screenshots, are included in the updated emergency procedures manual.
- The definitions and procedures associated with wellness and welfare checks was updated in the HRE emergency procedures manual before the end of the spring 2022 semester. In-person trainings now emphasize the differences between these two types of checks and walk participants through various scenarios to discuss how they should be handled.
- In summary, a wellness check occurs when someone expresses a concern or worry about a resident, and it requires housing staff to make every possible effort to locate the resident. If there is any element of a mental health concern or risk to self or others, it should be elevated to a welfare check.
- A welfare check occurs when there is a concern related to harm to self or others. This check always includes UUPD presence and efforts to locate the resident do not end until the resident is located.
- The procedures related to a missing resident were expanded upon and clarified in the housing emergency procedures manual before the end of the Spring 2022 Semester.
- The process for obtaining and documenting updated resident contact information has been updated, and new, proactive efforts are in place to obtain the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. Housing officials receive student contact information from what is self-reported during the university and housing application process. If a student shares with a housing employee that their contact information has changed, housing staff are now trained in how to update this information in the database used to manage housing operations. Additionally, incoming residents are asked to verify their personal details when reserving their rooms, and staff will ask students to verify their contact information again during the move-in process.
Safety at the U has completely evolved since the tragic death of Lauren McCluskey. Many of the recommendations from the initial independent review have been implemented and others require ongoing review and implementation. We remain committed to constant evaluation and improvement in order to create an environment that is as safe as possible for our campus community.
The following 29 recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented:
- Established the university’s chief safety officer position overseeing all police, security, emergency management and public safety responsibilities. The university filled this position with one of the independent investigators of the university’s response to the Lauren McCluskey murder, whose critical findings contributed to recommendations for how the U should improve its safety and security services.
- Developed a Department of Public Safety to connect all public safety resources and reduce the potential for siloed services.
- Improved recruiting and selection of police officer candidates with a strong emphasis on acquiring the best possible personnel who want to serve our specific community. Over 90% of the police officers are new to the department since 2019.
- Improved communication and engagement in the Behavioral Intervention Team and recently created a new Racial Bias Incident Response Team manager position.
- Created a professional standards component in the department to ensure that all complaints against university police and public safety personnel are thoroughly investigated, with consistent documentation and appropriate personnel action taken when sustained.
- Implemented a personnel management system called Guardian, which documents and tracks all complaints as well as compliments related to the performance of Department of Public Safety personnel.
- Created an Independent Review Committee that reviews all complaint investigations and department actions of university public safety personnel. This committee is composed of students, faculty and staff.
- Created a Public Safety Advisory Committee that meets regularly with the chief safety officer and leadership team.
- Adopted an intelligence-led public safety model and created a crime data analyst position to help identify trending activity for resource allocation.
- Created a public-facing dashboard of crime taking place. Additional information will show the public safety department’s effectiveness.
- Developed a Department of Public Safety communications plan committed to transparency and sharing information that helps everyone contribute to a safe campus environment.
- Created a victim-survivor advocate team that works directly with our police and public safety personnel to provide ongoing support and resources for those who have been harmed.
- Invested in a state-of-the-art public safety building.
- Significantly increased training efforts, with specific emphasis on de-escalation, behavioral health crisis response and managing implicit bias. Adopted a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach to policing. Provide ongoing training to personnel on dealing with interpersonal violence and adopted the Lethality Assessment procedure recommended by the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
- Conducted a recent safety survey of students and staff to establish baseline data and measure the impact of recent safety infrastructure changes.
- Conduct a campus sexual assault and sexual harassment climate survey every two years so that university students have the opportunity to voice their experiences.
- Adopted the 30 x 30 pledge to increase the number of female police officers to at least 30% by 2030. Currently, women comprise 10% of University Police Department personnel and 33% of the command staff.
- Provide increased supervisor involvement with detectives and conduct monthly audits of all cases to ensure they are being effectively investigated.
- Improved police communication with campus partners. This includes allowing select partners in OEO, HRE and ODOS access to our records management systems for cases that impact their areas of responsibility.
- Greatly improved communication and coordination between university police and our security divisions.
- Created dedicated officer positions that liaise with student-athletes.
- Increased number of 911 emergency dispatchers and applied best practice protocols for sharing criminal justice information between adjacent public safety agencies.
- In process of attaining CALEA and IACLEA accreditation.
- Currently migrating to the same records management system used by Salt Lake City Police Department and all other Salt Lake County public safety agencies. This will increase opportunities to share crime and criminal justice information between agencies for the benefit of all communities.
- Developed a University Public Safety Student Ambassador program.
- Developed a working relationship between university presidential interns and the university public safety leadership team.
- Currently reviewing and updating all department policies and procedures to reflect nationally established best practices.
- Currently developing a working relationship with Huntsman Mental Health Institute MH1 team so they may assist officers on emergency calls with individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Additionally, MH1 personnel will guide training to help officers better understand the needs of individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges.
- Currently building a police team dedicated to working with U of U Health Hospital's security and staff. This specialized team will allow us to more effectively serve the unique needs of these health service providers.
HRE staff routinely check residents’ access swipes when they pull up students’ records during service calls or meetings, or if they are alerted to an absence by a roommate, friend or family member.
The university does not have a centralized attendance process, nor do we actively monitor/enforce attendance. With that said, individual faculty often reach out to the Office of the Dean of Students with attendance or other student-related concerns. The office’s Student Support team will then perform outreach and coordinate wellness/welfare checks when appropriate.
The BIT helps keep the university community safe and connects distressed students to support resources. The BIT process focuses on prevention—providing resources and assistance to students, gathering information from concerned faculty and staff and assessing the threat level posed by a student’s behavior.
BIT investigations often work in tandem with other processes conducted by the Office of the Dean of Students and criminal investigations conducted by the University of Utah Police Department (UUPD). Students who face serious criminal charges or are facing high levels of stress in their lives may be referred for a BIT review.
Once international students arrive on campus through the Utah Global program, a team of four is available to assist student concerns as they arise. The office has a robust list of campus contacts and works proactively to connect students with campus resources.
Every year, the University of Utah learns of approximately a dozen students who have died during the school year. The causes include accidents, natural causes and death by suicide. In most cases, university leaders depend on students’ families to notify the school about their deaths. Deceased students are memorialized on the Remembering U website. Between 2014 and 2022, between 11 and 21 student deaths were reported to the university each year.