23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck has been confirmed dead after going missing earlier this month.
The University of Utah student was last seen on the morning of June 17, when police say she took a Lyft to a park in North Salt Lake City after flying in to Salt Lake City International Airport and texting her parents at 1am when she landed.
Airport surveillance footage showed her rolling her luggage through the airport in the early hours of the morning. Salt Lake City Police Assistant Chief Tim Doubt told reporters the Lyft driver ‘stated that Mackenzie did not appear to be in any type of distress.’
Her last text messages were sent to 31-year-old Ayoola Ajayi, a former US Army IT specialist. The MailOnline report Lueck claimed to be a ‘sugar baby’ seeking men over the age of 35 online.
According to CNN, an investigation by police showed Lueck and Ajayi’s phones were both in the park within a minute of each other, at approximately the same time the student’s phone stopped receiving data or location services.
Police said all communications with Lueck’s phone ceased around 3am, when Lueck is thought to have left the park with Ajayi.
— SLC Police Dept. (@slcpd) June 28, 2019
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown explained detectives searched Ajayi’s home and property on Wednesday (June 26). Ajayi’s neighbors reportedly told police they saw him using gasoline to burn something in his back garden on June 17 and June 18.
Speaking to reporters, Brown said there was evidence to suggest the 31-year-old had burned Lueck’s body:
A forensic excavation of the burn area was conducted, which resulted in the finding of several charred items that were consistent with personal items of Mackenzie Lueck.
— SLC Police Dept. (@slcpd) June 25, 2019
Police also discovered charred material which was determined to be female human tissue consistent with Lueck’s DNA profile.
The University of Utah issued a statement in response to the news of the 23-year-old’s death, with university President Ruth V. Watkins saying:
The death of Mackenzie Lueck is devastating news. On behalf of the university, I express our heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and classmates of Mackenzie during this very difficult time.
Ajayi was booked into the Salt Lake County jail on Friday. He faces charges of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body.
Speaking to Fox News, local contractor Brian Wolf revealed Ajayi reached out to him in April, asking him to build a secret, soundproof room in his basement complete with strange hooks on the walls and a ‘secret door’, though the contractor refused the job.
The police chief said the suspect denied knowing what Lueck looked like despite the fact several pictures of her were found on his phone.
Our thoughts are with Lueck’s friends and family at this tragic time.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.