After nearly two weeks of searching for missing University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck, authorities announced Friday that her charred remains were found in the backyard of a man’s home in Salt Lake City.
The man, Ayoola Ajayi, was arrested Friday morning and now faces four charges of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body.
“I will not be saying the killer’s name again but will go through what has transpired,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said at the beginning of the news conference.
The arrest came two days after police executed a search warrant at Ajayi’s home. At the time, police called the homeowner in the city’s Fairpark neighborhood a “person of interest” in Lueck’s disappearance.
Brown said Friday that neighbors had told police they saw Ajayi burning something with fuel June 17 and 18, the two days immediately following Lueck’s disappearance. She was last heard from in the early hours of June 17, after returning from her grandmother’s funeral in California and taking a late-night Lyft ride from Salt Lake City International Airport to a park in the opposite direction of her home.
The ride-share driver dropped Lueck off at Hatch Park around 3 a.m. to meet an unidentified person waiting in a vehicle, authorities said earlier this week. The Lyft driver said Lueck did not appear distressed when she approached the other vehicle, officials said.
Police later used cellphone data to confirm that Lueck’s last known location was the park. They also used location services to place Ajayi at the same park, at the same time, Brown said Friday.
Lueck’s last communication was with Ajayi, authorities said.
Police interviewed Ajayi, who said he had texted with her June 16 but denied ever meeting her or even knowing what she looked like — despite having photos of her in his possession, Brown said.
Police searched his property and uncovered a “fresh dig” in the same area of the fire neighbors had described. Authorities excavated the burn site and found charred items that belonged to Lueck. They also uncovered “human tissue” with DNA that matched that of the missing woman.
Ajayi was taken into custody at 9:20 a.m. Friday and is being booked into the Salt Lake County jail.
After the arrest, Brown said he called Lueck’s parents, Greg and Diana Lueck.
“This is one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever made,” the police chief said, as he removed his glasses and grew somber. The Luecks were “devastated and heartbroken” by the news, Brown said. He added that they expressed their thanks to the law enforcement community, their daughter’s friends and those who helped provide information during the search.
“Salt Lake City is a tightknit, caring community, and I hope we can work together to prevent this from ever happening again,” Brown said.