Year In Review: Kidnapping, Murder Of Mackenzie Lueck
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The missing person’s case of Mackenzie Lueck captured the public’s attention in 2019. The 23-year-old was kidnapped, and later found dead.
Lueck was a senior at the University of Utah, just months away from graduation last summer when she vanished.
It’s been six months since her disappearance, and ultimately, her tragic death.
When she didn’t show up for a midterm, Mackenzie’s friends knew something wasn’t right. Desperate for answers, they led the search effort to find her.
“We’re just trying to get the word out because we’re so worried about her,” friend Ashley Fine said at the time.
The search went on for days.
Lueck’s photos soon went viral, and soon enough, the missing college student made national headlines.
When local law enforcement got involved, it’s likely, Lueck was already dead.
Police released pictures taken from security camera footage at the Salt Lake City International Airport – photos of Mackenzie returning from Los Angeles eight days earlier.
“This is the last known footage we have of her and shows what she was wearing that day,” said Assistant Police Chief Tim Doubt from the Salt Lake City Police Department. “She did not appear to talk to anyone at the airport.”
At 2:40 a.m. on June 17, Lueck got into a Lyft car and took a ride to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake where she arrived less than 20 minutes later.
Although signs at the park said the area was monitored by video surveillance, a KSL Investigation revealed they cameras captured nothing because they weren’t real.
They were “dummy cameras.”
Police were able to determine Lueck willingly got into a parked car at the park and drove away.
At approximately 3 a.m. – three minutes after being dropped off – Lueck’s phone went dark.
Investigators worked tirelessly to determine who Mackenzie met at the park. After a review of phone records, Salt Lake City Police believe they found out.
KSL was the only camera outside an apartment complex near downtown Salt Lake on June 28 when the suspect, 31-year-old Ayoola Ajayi, was arrested.
“(An) investigation of Mackenzie’s phone records show that her last communication were with the arrested person,” said Chief Mike Brown. “Investigations of both the arrested persons and Mackenzie’s phone records show the location of their phones to be at Hatch Park within less than a minute of each other.”
Formal murder charges were filed a week later.
“This feels like a nightmare that I can’t wake up from, but unfortunately, it’s reality,” one of Mackenzie’s friends said at a vigil held in her honor.
The reality? The 23-year-old woman was brutally murdered.
Police said they found some of Lueck’s charred remains in the backyard of Ajayi’s home.
“Mackenzie suffered blunt force trauma to the left side of her skull,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
On July 3, Ajayi’s cell phone records led investigators to Logan Canyon, where detectives found a charred human body believed to be Lueck’s.
Ajayi faces four criminal charges related to Lueck’s death, including aggravated murder – a capital offense – aggravated kidnapping, and desecration of a body.
That was still not the end of the investigation.
“We are constantly adjusting to the changing circumstances and, and facts and evidence,” said Gill.
Those changing circumstances included additional charged of aggravated kidnapping and forcible sexual abuse against Ayoola Ajayi.
Four more charges were filed against Ajayi after a woman came forward, saying he sexually assaulted her in 2018 during a dinner date at his home.
Ajayi also faces 19 counts of charges for child pornography.
In the course of the investigation, nearly 30 search warrants were served and more than 3,000 pictures collected.
A two-day preliminary hearing has been scheduled for March 11 and 12. Evidence will be presented to see if the case will advance to trial.
Until then, Mackenzie’s loved ones are doing their best to remember her as she lived, not as she died.
“I feel like I should still be out looking for her I just can’t even believe that this even happened,” said Fine.
“She always knew how to make you feel loved,” said friend Kennedy Stoner. “She had a way of making you feel special. She loved helping people, and always had a smile on her face.”
Ajayi faces a total of 27 charges on three separate cases.
He pleaded not guilty in Lueck’s murder.
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