It’s been two weeks since college student Mackenzie Lueck vanished in the dead of the night. And as Utah investigators continue the desperate search for answers, they turn their attention to a secluded canyon. But the police have no way of knowing the true horror of the scene that they are about to uncover – or the bleak breakthrough that they are about to make.
Before her shocking disappearance, Lueck was much like any other college student. She was raised in El Segundo – a small city in Los Angeles, California – where she was the only girl of four children. Lueck attended El Segundo High, where she seemingly had no trouble making friends. In a June 2019 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, pal Carra Barbee said of Lueck, “Honestly, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like her.”
While at El Segundo High, Lueck and Barbee both swam and played water polo. The pair clearly loved the water, then, and sometimes they’d spend several hours in the pool. But aside from sport, Lueck also had philanthropic interests, having helped set up the school’s breast cancer awareness club.
Barbee remembers that she and Lueck established the club to help with their college applications. But Lueck’s involvement in such a charitable endeavor may have also been an early indication of her interest in women’s healthcare. After all, Lueck would later wind up studying pre-nursing and kinesiology at the University of Utah, where she enrolled in 2014.
And so, after moving from California to Salt Lake City – where the University of Utah is based – Lueck threw herself into college life. During the spring of 2015, for instance, she joined Alpha Chi Omega. It was there that Lueck met Carly Reilly, who would serve as her sorority mentor.
Reilly told The Salt Lake Tribune that she first met Lueck, she had been eager to get to know her. “I was drawn to her outgoing and positive personality,” Reilly said. “[I] knew I wanted her in my life as my ‘Little’ or as a close friend if the former did not work out.”
In fact, Alpha Chi Omega became a major part of Lueck’s life, according to those who knew her. The sorority requires members to keep up a 2.5 GPA and also mandates their involvement in certain philanthropic activities and social occasions. And Alpha Chi Omega is particularly involved in advocating for domestic abuse awareness.
Of course, college is often a time of new beginnings, and for Lueck it was no different. While the student had been raised as a Mormon in California, she seemingly rejected the faith in Salt Lake City. In fact, along with her sorority sisters, Lueck enjoyed visiting bars and drinking – activities that the Mormon church doesn’t approve of.
Plus, it was during her time at college that Lueck’s political outlook also started to shift. She had registered as a Republican in 2014, but in 2018 she joined the conservative Independent American Party. What’s more, Lueck became vocal about female issues, celebrating female suffrage on Facebook and encouraging women to embrace their bodies.
But all in all, Lueck was much like any other college student her age. She supported her school at the University of Utah football games and enjoyed soaking up the sun when she had some rare down time. And alongside her studies, Lueck also worked as a personal assistant, according to a friend.
So, it’s safe to say that Lueck was just finding herself in summer 2019 when everything came crashing down. In the early hours of Monday, June 17, 2019, Lueck touched down in Salt Lake City after attending her grandmother’s memorial service in California. And she reportedly messaged her mom at 1:00 a.m. after her plane landed.
Then, cameras at Salt Lake City International Airport captured Lueck exiting the departure terminal after 2:00 a.m. Another still from security footage shows the student wheeling her bags. After leaving the airport, as police later revealed, Lueck ordered a lift to North Salt Lake City. But after the driver dropped the student off at a park, she vanished without a trace.
On June 20 Lueck was reported missing. And almost a week later, Tim Doubt, Salt Lake assistant police chief, issued a statement about her disappearance to the press. “[Lueck] was met at Hatch Park by an individual in a vehicle,” he said. “The Lyft driver left [Lueck] at the park with that person and stated that Mackenzie did not appear to be in any type of distress.”
Following Lueck’s disappearance, police confirmed that her driver had indeed dropped the student off at her chosen location. And after Lueck had left the vehicle, the man had continued collecting other customers. Indeed, in June 2019 Salt Lake Police Sergeant Brandon Shearer told the Deseret News that the individual was “not a suspect at this time.”
Plus, Lyft – the transportation company with which Lueck had booked her ride – confirmed that it was assisting the police with the investigation. In a statement given to ABC News in June 2019, a spokesperson for Lyft said, “We recognize how scary this must be for those who know and love Ms. Lueck. The safety of our community is fundamental to Lyft.”
Before going missing, Lueck had reportedly been living in a property near Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square shopping center. And in the days after the student’s disappearance, her roommates had grown concerned when she didn’t contact them. Lueck also failed to show up for a midterm paper and a flight to Los Angeles. According to one of her sorority sisters, Ashley Fine, this kind of behavior was extremely out of character.
Given the strange circumstances of Lueck’s disappearance, then, some of her friends couldn’t help but worry. Fine told KSL that Lueck was “extremely dedicated” and “would never miss her midterms or anything like that.” She added, “I don’t know why she would be going [to North Salt Lake] around 2:00 a.m. It’s just very, very suspicious and dangerous.”
And to make matters worse, Lueck’s phone had not been switched on or located since the day that she vanished. That said, on June 26 police chief Doubt stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that Lueck had come to harm. As a result, authorities appealed directly to the student in the hopes that she would come forward herself.
While Doubt acknowledged that people sometimes go missing of their own accord and don’t wish to be located, he still issued a plea to Lueck. He said, “Mackenzie, we are asking you to please reach out to either the Salt Lake City police department or a law enforcement agency where you are at. We want to make sure you are safe, and we will respect your wishes.”
Plus, Lueck’s loved ones also released a heartfelt statement in the wake of her disappearance. They said, “Our primary goal is to find Mackenzie and bring her home. Her family is grateful for the concern, prayers and the tireless efforts of the Salt Lake City Police and members of the community.”
The Lueck family also took to social media in an attempt to reach out to their missing relative. A post issued on Facebook pleaded for the young woman to get in touch. It read, “Mackenzie, if you can hear us, your family and friends are looking for you and are concerned for your safety. Please reach out to anyone, so we can get you home.”
Following Lueck’s disappearance, police searched tirelessly for her. And meanwhile, her family, friends and wider community aided efforts by handing out flyers and sharing social media posts about her. Then, on June 24 police announced that they had established a tip line to which people could call in and provide information on the case.
At this time, Salt Lake Police Sergeant Shearer told Deseret News, “We’re not sure what the case is… We’ve still not found any evidence that [Lueck] is in danger – that she has been harmed, specifically.” But that said, Shearer also admitted that authorities were “very concerned.”
Then, a few days later, there was a breakthrough on Lueck’s case – although it was an extremely bleak one. On June 28 police took into custody a 31-year-old male, who was suspected of obstructing justice, abduction, murder and desecration of a human body.
That man is former tech specialist Ayoola Ajayi, who has apparently been linked to Lueck’s disappearance through her cellphone data. Police Chief Mike Brown later revealed that Ajayi is the last known person that the student messaged before going missing. And it is also alleged that cops located traces of Lueck’s DNA in his backyard.
After being arrested, Ajayi was held without bond. Brown revealed that the suspect’s neighbors had claimed that they’d witnessed him setting something alight with gas behind his property on June 17 and 18. And according to Brown, an examination of the alleged burn site turned up more evidence relating to Lueck’s case.
When authorities scoured Ajayi’s backyard, they apparently discovered “several charred items that were consistent with personal items of Mackenzie Lueck,” Brown claimed. What’s more, cops reportedly found burnt material that was confirmed to be human tissue matching the missing student’s DNA. Given such grim evidence, then, Lueck’s disappearance was now being treated as a homicide investigation.
Of course, this devastating news sent shockwaves throughout Lueck’s community. And as a result, Salt Lake City’s mayor, Jackie Biskupski, issued a statement in relation to the case. “As a mother and a mayor, my heart breaks for the Lueck family,” she said. “Today, all of Salt Lake City mourns for them and stands ready to offer support.”
What’s more, Mayor Biskupski paid tribute to the authorities who were investigating Lueck’s case. “I am incredibly grateful to Chief Brown and the members of the Salt Lake City Police Department for working diligently to gather evidence that will allow our community to seek justice for Mackenzie and her family,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ruth V. Watkins, who is the current president of the University of Utah, also issued a statement on Lueck’s case. “The death of Mackenzie Lueck is devastating news,” she said. “On behalf of the university, I express our heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and classmates of Mackenzie during this very difficult time.”
Following the heartbreaking news, Lueck’s sorority also spoke out. “Our Alpha Chi Omega community is grieving the loss of Mackenzie Lueck, and we send our deepest sympathies and prayers to her family during this incredibly difficult time,” the sorority said. “We hope that our Alpha Chi Omega sisters who knew Mackenzie best can find peace and comfort as they reflect on the lasting impact she made on the lives of her family members, friends and sisters.”
After Ajayi’s arrest, meanwhile, there was speculation in the media regarding his past behavior. His estranged wife, Tenisha, alleged that he had been abusive and “aggressive” towards her during their relationship, for instance. And she also claimed that the man had regularly threatened to have her kidnapped and killed if she’d failed to comply to his demands.
What’s more, there were also reports suggesting that Ajayi had sexually assaulted a colleague in 2014. The Salt Lake Legal Defender Association stressed, however, that when it comes to Lueck’s case, Ajayi is not yet guilty. “The facts in this matter will be established in due course through the processes of the criminal justice system,” it said in a statement.
Then, almost two weeks after Lueck vanished, there was another grim breakthrough in the case. Around 90 miles north of Salt Lake City, police had begun searching Logan Canyon. And there, investigators discovered a body, which forensic experts subsequently confirmed as that of the missing student.
Commenting on the development in a statement, Brown said that he was “relieved and grief-stricken.” Plus, the police chief added, “I spoke with Mackenzie’s family this morning. Despite their grief, we hope this will help them find some closure and justice.”
In the days following the discovery of Lueck’s remains, more details emerged about exactly how the student’s life had been cut tragically short. At a press conference on July 10, District Attorney Sim Gill revealed that Lueck’s body had been burned and abandoned in the canyon. Meanwhile, her arms had been tied behind her back with a cord and a zip tie.
According to Gill, Lueck had suffered a blow to her skull, from which she had likely died immediately. Said fatal injury had occurred on the left side of the young woman’s head, where investigators had found a two-inch puncture. And a portion of the student’s scalp was gone, too.
At the same press conference, authorities confirmed their belief that it had been Ajayi whom Lueck had met in the park after leaving her Lyft ride. And consequently, he’d been officially charged with the 23-year-old’s slaying and abduction. But police did not reveal any information about the nature of the relationship between the victim and the alleged perpetrator.
At the time of the conference, Ajayi had not yet entered a plea. It was also not known if he had found an attorney that would be able to take his case. Gill, meanwhile, insisted that there was still an “ongoing investigation” and refused to answer questions about any “prior history” between Ajayi and Lueck.
Ajayi made his first appearance in court on July 15, 2019. And if convicted, the alleged killer could be handed the death penalty, which is legal in the state of Utah. That said, Gill has insisted that it is too early to say if the District Attorney’s Office would seek capital punishment.