SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah college student missing 11 days was abducted and killed and her remains burned in the yard of a man now facing aggravated murder and other charges, authorities said Friday.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown, who became emotional at times during a morning press conference, said Ayoola A. Ajayi was being charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping and desecration of a body in the death of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck.
He was arrested without incident earlier Friday morning by a SWAT team.
Brown said he told the missing woman’s parents in Southern California about the arrest earlier Friday morning. “This is one of the most difficult phone calls I’ve ever made,” he said. Her parents are “devastated and heartbroken by this news.”
Lueck disappeared on June 17, after she returned from a trip home to California and took a Lyft from the airport to a park north of Salt Lake City. She was last seen apparently willingly meeting someone there at about 3 a.m.
Ajayi was the last person she communicated with electronically before her disappearance, and phone location data shows them both at the park within a minute of each other, Brown said.
“This was the same time as Mackenzie’s phone stopped receiving any further data or location services,” Brown said.
He declined to say exactly how they got in touch or communicated. Ajayi has acknowledged speaking with her the evening of June 16, but denied talking to her after or knowing what she looked like — despite having her photos of her on his phone, Brown said.
The police chief said investigators were seeking to determine if others were involved. A second person was questioned at the time of his arrest and later released, Brown said.
After discovering that Ajayi was the last person Lueck communicated with, police searched his home on Wednesday and Thursday. In his backyard, they found a “fresh dig area,” and charred items that belonged to Lueck.
They also found burned human remains that matched her DNA profile, Brown said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Ajayi, who had previously been identified as a person of interest in Lueck’s disappearance, had an attorney. He had not returned previous messages from The Associated Press prior to his arrest.
Lueck was a part-time student at the University of Utah in her senior year majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing. She has been a student since 2014 and has an off-campus apartment.
She is from El Segundo in the Los Angeles area and flew to California for a funeral before returning to Salt Lake City, police said.
Her family reported her missing on June 20 and became more concerned after she missed a planned flight back to Los Angeles last weekend.
Lueck’s uncle, who did not provide his name at the police press conference, held back tears as he read a statement from her family thanking the investigators for their work.
“They’re also grateful to her community, her friends and others around the nation who have supported this investigation,” he said.