SALT LAKE CITY (CBSLA) – The remains of missing 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck of El Segundo have been found in the backyard of a Salt Lake City home whose owner was arrested Friday and charged with her murder.
At a news conference Friday morning, Salt Lake City police confirmed 31-year-old Ayoola Ajayi, the owner of a suburban home which they first raided on Wednesday, has been charged with aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, desecration of a body and obstruction of justice in Lueck’s death.
Lueck’s remains were found in a burn area in the backyard of the home, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown told reporters.
CBS affiliate KUTV reports that Ajayi is a Utah State University graduate who served in the Army as an information technology specialist, was a freelance model, and, according to his LinkedIn profile, worked as a technical support analyst for Dell. It’s unclear how the two may have known each other or what motive he may have had in her killing.
Lueck had not been seen since the early morning hours of June 17, when she returned to Salt Lake City after attending her grandmother’s funeral in the Los Angeles area.
A senior studying kinesiology at the University of Utah, Lueck texted her mother at around 2 a.m. Mountain Standard Time to say her flight had arrived safely. It was her last communication with family or friends. She then took a Lyft ride from the Salt Lake City International Airport to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake.
She arrived at Hatch Park, where the Lyft driver — who police say was ruled out as a suspect — told detectives that another person with a car was there waiting for her. Brown confirmed Friday that investigators determined it was Ajayi who she met. Friends had told investigators they were unsure why she went to that park because she does not live in that area.
In an interview with police, Ajayi admitted to texting with her on the night before her disappearance.
“He admitted to having text conversations to Mackenzie on June 16 at approximately 6 p.m., but nothing after that time,” Brown said.
However, Ajayi denied having ever met her.
“He denied any personal contact with Mackenzie, or meeting with her at any time,” Brown said.
“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,” Brown said. “This was the same time as Mackenzie’s phone stopped receiving any data or location services on June 17 at approximately 3 a.m.”
KUTV reports that Ajayi had previously lived at an apartment complex across the street from Hatch Park. He was evicted from that complex in 2016.
After being last seen by the Lyft driver, Lueck did not show up for any of her exams or classes. On June 20, three days after she disappeared, her family reported her missing. She had a return ticket back to Los Angeles International Airport scheduled for Sunday, June 23. However, she never showed up for that flight. She was also absent on social media.
On Wednesday night, as part of the Lueck case, Salt Lake City police served a search warrant at Ajayi’s home, listed as an Airbnb rental located at 547 North 1000 W In the Fairpark neighborhood.
While serving that warrant, neighbors told police they had observed Ajayi burning something in his backyard using gasoline on June 17 and June 18. Investigators located the burn area and excavated it, where the found charred personal items belonging to Lueck, as well as her human remains.
“Other charred material was located which has now been forensically determined to be female human tissue,” Brown said. “A DNA profile of that human tissue was obtained during forensic testing by the Utah State Lab. That DNA profile was compared and is consistent with the DNA profile obtained through further forensic testing of personal items of Mackenzie Lueck.”
Investigators seized dozens of boxes of ammunition, a pitchfork and other items as evidence from his home.
Meanwhile, police are still searching for a mattress and box spring that were given away last week from Ajayi’s home. Ajayi allegedly advertised the items on social media.
It’s unclear when Ajayi will make his first court appearance.
CBS2’s Michele Gile spoke to some of Lueck’s acquaintances in El Segundo, not far from the high school she attended, around the corner from the family home.
She played water polo at the school. Her coach texted Gile to say Lueck was always so amazingly positive.
He called it a terrible loss.