It is one of the toughest things to understand in life — when someone so young, with so much life to live, suddenly has that taken from them.
For the second time in less than a year, tragedy struck the University of Utah campus on Monday night. Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old member of the Utes’ track and field team who was set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in communication in the spring, was shot and killed, apparently by a 37-year-old convicted sex offender out on parole.
This, on the heels of the shooting of 23-year-old ChenWei Guo at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon last October.
With the seemingly never-ending stream of senseless shooting deaths, it would be all too easy to brush these aside and chalk it up to whatever you want to blame it on.
But these have both hit extremely close to home for me as a current student at the University of Utah. That campus is my second home these days as I pursue a second Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish.
Over the past year, I have spent many a late night in the Marriott Library studying and trying to finish projects, or in the Student Life Center on the east side of campus relaxing in the pool. I walk through the tunnel on the west side of campus that connects the Nielsen Fieldhouse with the Rice-Eccles Stadium parking lot and the adjacent Trax station several times a week. I have lunch in the A. Ray Olpin University Union. I have classes in Gardner Commons and the Social and Behavioral Science Building.
That campus is my home, my sanctuary and a place where my dreams and goals can become reality.
It is also a place that is hurting beyond belief right now, with its collective sense of security completely shattered.
As I got out of my car in the parking lot between the library and the campus store Wednesday morning before my first class of the day, there was an immediate, palpable sense that something was different more than 24 hours after McCluskey was killed.
Everybody seemed a little quieter. There wasn’t the sense of excitement and optimism that you tend to get on a college campus, surrounded by a bunch of 20-somethings with their whole future still in front of them. McCluskey’s death was a massive gut punch, the harshest dose of reality possible.
At least that’s how I felt. I have at least a dozen years on most of my classmates — maybe more — so I have much more life experience. But just because I’ve been around longer and been a bit more hardened by the realities of the adult world, it doesn’t make it any easier for me to wrap my head around what happened Monday night or what happened last October.
I never met Lauren McCluskey. I couldn’t tell you if we ever even crossed paths somewhere on campus. But what I do know is that a bright light has been very unfairly extinguished. She wasn’t just an athlete. She was somebody’s friend; somebody’s daughter.
McCluskey was somebody who still had everything in front of her, with dreams of accomplishing great things in the years to come.
All of that was taken from her in a matter of seconds.
It’s something that nobody on the University of Utah campus, no matter what age, will never be able to understand.
Darren Vaughan is the sports editor for the Transcript Bulletin and a senior Spanish major at the University of Utah. He can be reached at email@example.com.