Police Make Arrest in Student Mackenzie Lueck's Disappearance

Updated on July 4, 2019
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Kym L. Pasqualini is a freelance writer and founder of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

Mackenzie Lueck, 23, has been missing since June 17, 2019, from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mackenzie Lueck, 23, has been missing since June 17, 2019, from Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mackenzie “Kenzie” Lueck, 23, vanished Monday, June 17, 2019, from Salt Lake City, Utah. She had last contacted her family during the early hours of June 17 to let them know her plane had arrived, then she proceeded to vanish.

During an intensive investigation of Lueck’s disappearance, police made a grisly discovery on Friday, June 28.

On June 28, police announced they arrested Ayoola Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Deseret News.
On June 28, police announced they arrested Ayoola Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Deseret News.

After scouring a digital trail, Salt Lake City police arrested Ayoola A. Ajayi, 31, in the kidnapping and murder of Lueck, after serving search warrants on his home and finding remains and other articles that had been burned in Ajayi’s backyard.

Mackenzie Lueck vanished after leaving Salt Lake City International Airport on June 17, 2018 after taking a ride from a Lyft driver.
Mackenzie Lueck vanished after leaving Salt Lake City International Airport on June 17, 2018 after taking a ride from a Lyft driver.

Last week, police released surveillance footage at Salt Lake City International Airport, showing Lueck had deplaned at approximately 2:09 a.m.

It does not appear that Lueck talked to anyone while at the airport. The footage shows she was at the airport for approximately 31 minutes, quickly stopping to pick up her luggage before leaving the jetway and getting into a Lyft rideshare at 2:40 a.m.

Salt Lake City Assistant Police Chief Tim Doubt told reporters that Lueck sent a text to her mother at 2:01 a.m. on June 17, shortly after landing in Salt Lake City. Lueck had been returning from California after visiting family for the funeral of her grandmother, whom she was very close to.

From the airport, Lueck did not go home but instead took the Lyft to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake City. The park is nestled between restaurants and apartment complexes, with a police department up the street. A hot spot for families and community events, the park is large and has two playgrounds, a basketball court, a baseball diamond, and a grassy field.

Lueck arrived at the park at 2:59 a.m., and according to the Lyft driver, a person was there waiting for her in a car.

The Lyft driver told police Lueck did not appear to be in any kind of distress when she was dropped off.

Police say they are not aware of Mackenzie Lueck having any mental health issues or a history of going off the grid.
Police say they are not aware of Mackenzie Lueck having any mental health issues or a history of going off the grid.

Lueck was a part-time student at the University of Utah. She was in her senior year, majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing, and she had been attending the college since 2014.

Since her disappearance, Lueck has failed to show up at the laboratory where she was employed, missed her mid-term exam, and failed to show up for her scheduled return flight to Los Angeles on June 23. There was also no social media activity raising concern. Despite numerous attempts to reach her, Lueck’s phone had been turned off since she vanished.

Lueck’s cat and car were still at her house.

At the time of her disappearance, Ashley Fine, one of Lueck’s friends, told the Salt Lake City Tribune that Lueck was a dedicated student and said missing classes is not something she would ever do.

Police had canvassed the park numerous times to get surveillance video and knock on resident’s doors to inquire if anyone saw anything the evening she vanished.

Police had received several tips that Lueck may have been using dating apps and might have been interested in meeting older men and casually dating.

Screen capture sent to Zion's Lost podcast.
Screen capture sent to Zion's Lost podcast.

KSL TV reported that two comments to a social media post were sent anonymously to a private investigator and subsequently forwarded to a Utah cold cases podcast creator. The comments suggest Lueck may have been seeking a “sugar daddy” type relationship with older men.

“Try Tinder and be blunt about it,” reads one comment appearing to have been authored by an account belonging to a Kenzie Lueck.

The next comment reads, “Mine says ‘I want an SD/SB relationship with a real connection’ if don’t know what an SD/SB is, tell them, sugar daddy and sugar baby. But if they don’t know, they aren’t worth your time. Set (your) age preference to 35+. You’ll have the most luck there. Private message me, if you have more questions! I have experience.”

“I have some experience on seeking arrangements, online only, tinder, and currently have two lol.” The timestamp on the message indicates it was made 12 weeks ago.

The dating app noted the profile says the user is seeking a “mutually beneficial” relationship, from California, going to school in Utah and graduating kinesiology in Spring of 2020, along with what appears to be an image of Lueck.

Police have uncovered several other social media accounts including an Instagram account they continue to investigate.

Thomas Lauth, a private investigator based in Indianapolis, Ind., has worked on missing person cases for 25 years and watching the investigation closely. “One of the first things we do as private investigators is to investigate a missing person’s social and personal life,” said Lauth. “The information that can be extracted from social media accounts can be critical information that police can use to potentially move forward with the investigation and solid charges," Lauth added. "I am sure even after the arrest they are scouring both Lueck’s and Ajayi’s social media accounts to determine how and when Mackenzie and Ajayi met.”

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown makes announcement they have found the charred remains of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Fox News.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown makes announcement they have found the charred remains of Mackenzie Lueck. Photo courtesy of Fox News.

At a press conference announcing the arrest, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said that after Lueck disappeared, the suspect originally denied knowing what she looked like, but several pictures of her were found on his phone, and the “digital footprint” has continued even after the arrest.

“This is a digital forensic investigation,” Brown said. “This is covering computers, cell phones, IP addresses, URLs and texting apps.”

Investigators also found forensic evidence after searching Ajayi’s home and property police said. As they did, neighbors came forward and told police they saw Ajayi using gasoline to burn something in his backyard on June 17 and 18, Brown said.

“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,” Brown added.

Police also discovered charred material that was determined to be female tissue consistent with Lueck’s DNA profile. A mattress police were searching for has been located but they did not offer additional details.

After Ajayi’s arrest, Brown contacted Lueck’s parents to give them the news. They were “devastated and heartbroken” by this news, Brown said. “This is one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever made."

According to Ajayi’s LinkedIn profile, he is a former information technology specialist for the US Army and recently worked for Dell and Goldman Sachs. He lived approximately 5 miles from the park where Lueck was last seen.

Brown told reporters they expect to charge Ajayi with aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body.

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    © 2019 Kym L Pasqualini

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