A Salt Lake City man was arrested Friday on suspicion of killing Mackenzie Lueck, a 23-year-old University of Utah student from El Segundo, and burning her body in his backyard.
Lueck’s disappearance gained national attention after authorities began looking for her more than a week ago. Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown announced Friday that the search had come to a sinister end.
Ayoola Ajayi, 31, was being booked into jail on suspicion of aggravated murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body after a SWAT team took him into custody Friday morning, Brown said.
“I will not be saying the killer’s name again,” he said.
The arrest comes two days after investigators served a search warrant at a home in the Rose Park neighborhood of Salt Lake City and seized evidence said they related to Lueck’s disappearance. While authorities did not specify what evidence was found, KUTV-TV reported that detectives booked 27 boxes of assault rifle ammunition and a pitchfork into evidence, along with bags of other items.
Brown said at the time that the homeowner — later identified as Ajayi — was a “person of interest” in the case.
Records show that the last person Lueck communicated with using her cellphone was Ajayi, authorities said, although the man denied having any contact with her in an interview with detectives. He also told authorities he didn’t know what Lueck looked like and hadn’t seen photos of her online, despite having at least one photo of her in his possession, Brown said.
Lueck, a pre-nursing student studying kinesiology, went missing June 17 after arriving at the Salt Lake City airport following her grandmother’s funeral in Los Angeles. After leaving the airport, she took a Lyft to a park in North Salt Lake, where she met with Ajayi, authorities say.
It wasn’t immediately known when or how Lueck was killed. Police did not provide a possible motive for the slaying.
Ajayi’s neighbors told authorities they saw him burning something using gasoline in his backyard on June 17 and 18. When authorities searched his home, they found a freshly dug area along with human tissue belonging to a woman and some of Lueck’s personal items that had been charred, Brown said.
Brown said he called Lueck’s parents Friday morning to tell them about their daughter’s death and the arrest.
“This is one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever made as both Greg and his wife were devastated and heartbroken by this news,” he said.
He added that the family thanked the police department and community members for their compassion during the search for their daughter.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert expressed his condolences to Lueck’s family in a tweet Friday.
“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mackenzie Lueck at this very difficult time. I was horrified and sickened by today’s news,” he wrote. “I appreciate the work of our public safety officials and their professional and timely efforts as they work this case to its conclusion.”