University of Utah announces $5M settlement for international student who was killed

Feb 22, 2023, 12:17 PM



SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah announced Tuesday it has reached a settlement and will pay $5 million to the parents of an international student who was killed last year.

Zhifan Dong was a first-year student from China who police say was killed by fellow student and boyfriend Haoyu Wang on Feb. 11, 2022, at a downtown Salt Lake hotel. Police say Wang injected his girlfriend with a fatal dose of drugs as part of a suicide pact.

Wang is currently incarcerated awaiting trial in the case. Wang was charged last year in 3rd District Court with murder, a first-degree felony, in addition to two counts of drug possession with intent to distribute, a second-degree felony and a third-degree felony.

Dong’s parents criticized the university in July and said the school failed “to protect her when she needed it the most.” Before her death, Dong was endangered, missing and an alleged victim of domestic violence.

In July 2022, the university released the results of a review of how its Housing and Residential Education team, Utah Global office and public safety department handled the days and weeks leading up to Dong’s death.

“It is our hope that Zhifan will be remembered and that her memory will inspire others to help prevent intimate partner violence and save lives on campus and in all our communities. We hope she will inspire other victims to seek help and to leave their abusers,” Dong’s parents said in a statement.

A joint statement from the university and Dong’s parents said Tuesday the settlement — pending legislative approval — will honor her memory and resolve any “outstanding legal claims against the university.” The school will pay $5 million to the family and a memorial will be established on campus in Dong’s memory.

“Although her life was short, in these short 19 years, she lived a rich and fulfilling life,” Dong’s parents said. “She had lived, had loved, had been happy, and had been blessed. Her short life on earth was not in vain.”

The settlement will not include any state appropriations or funds from student tuition, a press release said.

“Our campus continues to mourn the death of Zhifan Dong,” University of Utah President Taylor Randall said. “Today’s settlement demonstrates our seriousness in honoring Zhifan Dong and reaffirming our commitment to the ongoing work of addressing all aspects of student safety.”

“Her murder is a reminder that intimate partner violence is a societal problem that transcends borders and cultures, and manifests in many ways,” Randall added. “No one should have to endure the loss of a child to violence and our university will remain diligent, continue to improve, and advance the health and well-being of our students.”

The settlement has been approved by Gov. Spencer Cox, and in the next few days the Utah Legislature is expected to vote on a joint resolution to approve it as well.

“The loss makes us very sad, leaving us only endless sadness and longing, and too many regrets. When we shed tears and choked up over the pictures of our daughter, her lovely smiling face and familiar voice replayed in our minds over and over again,” the Dong family statement said. “We know that she has never gone far, and she is in our hearts.”

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University of Utah announces $5M settlement for international student who was killed