U of U president says response to student before death ‘revealed shortcomings’

Jul 19, 2022, 2:05 PM | Updated: 6:33 pm
(University of Utah)...
(University of Utah)
(University of Utah)

SALT LAKE CITY— A University of Utah report shared the events and response leading up to the killing of international student Zhifan Dong, who investigators say was lethally injected by her ex-boyfriend at a Salt Lake City hotel.

The almost 100-page report, reveals multiple attempts by housing staff and others to offer help to Dong and her former boyfriend, who was also a U of U  student, but those offers were largely declined or ignored. The report also reveals many missed opportunities and “shortcomings,” according to University of Utah President Taylor Randall.

The full report can be found here.

U of U Report Following Student Death by LarryDCurtis on Scribd

In a letter to the community, Randall stated: “Although the university made extensive efforts to support and ensure the safety of Dong and provide assistance to Wang, our self-evaluation revealed shortcomings: a delay by former members of our housing services staff in notifying the University of Utah Police Department of indications of intimate partner violence; processes, procedures and trainings in housing that needed to be clarified and improved; and insufficient and unprofessional internal communication. We have addressed each of these areas, including employment actions.”

Dong and her boyfriend, Haoyu Wang, had a history of domestic violence. Wang was arrested for hitting Dong in the head after a fight off campus on Jan. 12.

The following day, Dong called the Salt Lake City Police Department and Housing and Residential Education with concerns about Wang’s well-being saying he was suicidal. Staff members were unable to make contact with Wang after that request.

In the time following those events, Dong and Wang were difficult to locate or contact. Many efforts to follow up including texts, calls, and emails from staff were ignored.

At one point, housing staff made contact and spoke at length with Dong; and while they documented the interactions in a case management software platform, 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 University of Utah Police Department, as required by their position. Housing staff continued to check on both students over the next three weeks, often making contact.

However, the history and reports of domestic violence were not reported to University Safety Leaders until Feb. 8 according to the report.

“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,” Jason Ramirez, associate vice president and dean of students 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,” the release from the university stated.

In response to the shortcomings listed, Randall said they held employees accountable, with updated and clarified emergency procedures for housing staff, and a restructured approach to streamline the reporting process. They also hired a new housing executive director.

Two written “final warnings” were issued to employees and one memorandum of expectation.

Wang is charged with the murder of Dong. He is accused of injecting her with a lethal dose of heroin in what he called an “attempt to commit suicide together.”

Wang, who was also an international student from China, has been charged with murder, and two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

Man charged with murder in hotel death of U student

Randall also said he believed the university had a responsibility to be transparent about the actions taken by university employees during that time.

“Regarding the death of first-year student Zhifan Dong this past February at the hands of fellow student Haoyu Wang, I believe the university must err on the side of full transparency. Today, the university released a detailed timeline of our employees’ actions before, and as a result of her passing, including known public information related to this case and documents that would ultimately be subject to disclosure under public records laws and policies.”

“As your president, I will lead through transparency, by taking action and by constantly seeking to do better,” Randall said.

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.”

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U of U president says response to student before death ‘revealed shortcomings’