SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The University of Utah staff has acknowledged its “shortcomings” after 19-year-old student Zhifan Dong was killed by her boyfriend 26-year-old Haoyu Wang in February.
On Tuesday, the U sent out a press release titled “Mourning the death of Zhifan Dong: A commitment to improve.”
The school details a timeline of events that led up to the death of Dong, who died in a Quality Inn hotel in downtown Salt Lake City after Wang gave her a lethal dose of heroin on February 11.
One month before her death, Dong reported an “act of intimate partner violence against her to the front desk” while the couple was at a motel downtown on January 12.
Salt Lake City Police arrested Wang, booking him into jail, but releasing him within hours. Dong issued a temporary restraining order against Wang.
The next day, on January 13, Dong called the police again “due to Wang’s behavior,” according to a court filing.
On January 14, Dong reported Wang’s suicidal ideation to housing staff and asked that they conduct a wellness check — this is when the school found out about the incident on January 12.
The housing staff then asked Mental Health First Responders (MH1) for help conducting a wellness check but MH1 was unable to contact Wang.
Over the next couple of days, the housing staff attempts to contact both students. On January 24, the staff meets with Wang and he tells them he has a counseling center appointment later that day.
On January 24, housing staff discover that Wang had not swiped his card into a housing building for seven days — later realized that there are two students with the name “Haoyu Wang” and they’d been contacting the wrong Wang.
A missing person report was then filed for Dong on February 8 since she hadn’t reported to class or been seen by her suitemate.
On February 11, Wang sends an email to a housing administrator saying he and Dong are still in love and have “decided to die by suicide together.”
Since the incident, Wang has been charged with murder and two counts of drug possession.
The University says they’ve updated their emergency procedure manual for employees and have taken corrective action with staff members directly involved in the situation. Two of those employees resigned before the investigation concluded and corrective actions were taken with the remaining three employees.
The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition says abuse can come in many forms — it can be physical, emotional, or financial — but one they want those who may be facing domestic violence to know they’re not alone and can reach out for help.
“The outcome of homicide is to me some of the things why we do this work every day to avoid that. Anytime that happens my heart goes out to the family, friends, and anyone involved in this. And also those reaching out with some sort of violence,” said Jennifer Campbell, the executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.
ABC4 also reached out to the mother of Lauren McCluskey, the U of U student who was murdered by a man she briefly dated in 2018. She says her daughter’s case has so much in common with what happened to Dong.
She says both women reached out and didn’t get the help they needed.
“Lauren was loved deeply and is missed even more deeply. The McCluskey’s hope for change so that other parents do not lose their daughters to violence when they go away to college. There are so many similarities between Lauren’s case and that of Zhifan Dong. Both of these young women reached out for help repeatedly and any help that was provided was ineffective. Better communication, improved training, and the removal of silos are urgently needed in order to prevent the loss of future lives. The McCluskeys want to Thank everyone for their thoughts, continued support and remembrance of Lauren.”
Domestic violence resources can be found here.