Police arrest man suspected of killing Utah college student

FILE - This undated photo taken from the Facebook page #FindMackenzieLueck shows a Mackenzie Lueck, 23, a senior at the University of Utah. One person was taken into custody Friday, June 28, in connection with the disappearance of Lueck, who disappeared 11 days ago. (#FindMackenzieLueck via AP)

Contrary to Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman character in “Ghostbusters” — who at one point in the movie admits he’s “fuzzy on the whole good-bad thing” — I believe the concept is actually quite simple.

There’s good, and there’s bad. And for the most part, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.

Granted, there are the occasional gray areas. Take lying, for example. While most of us agree that lying is “bad,” what about lying when your significant other asks if the outfit she’s wearing makes her look fat?

That kinda feels like a “good” lie to me.

Still, most of our daily good-bad choices are fairly straightforward. And as a general rule of thumb, being kind to others is almost always good, while being unkind is almost always bad.

A classic example of this whole good-bad debate has been playing out in the news of late with the murder investigation of Mackenzie Lueck, who disappeared June 17 after returning from a trip home to California for her grandmother’s funeral.

Police say that on the day she disappeared the 23-year-old University of Utah student took a Lyft from the airport to a park north of Salt Lake City, where she met someone in the early morning hours. Some of her remains and personal belongings were later found, burned and buried, in the Salt Lake City backyard of the suspect. Her body was discovered in Logan Canyon on Wednesday.

I’m sure we can all agree that murder is bad. But you know what else is bad? The insensitive louts who’ve come out of the woodwork in the last couple of weeks to imply that perhaps the victim somehow brought her murder upon herself.

That assessment is based on the idea that Lueck may not have shared the same morals as many Utahns. Why, she might have been a sugar baby — or even a prostitute.

As if any of these things explain or lessen the horrible fate that befell her.

Look, I totally get what’s going on here. It’s human nature to want to make sense out of a senseless act; it helps give order to our world. We want to believe that when horrible things happen, there’s an explanation for them. So we look for reasons why something might have happened to someone. I mean, I don’t go around meeting people at parks in the middle of the night, so that sort of thing won’t ever happen to me, right?

But an unfortunate side effect of such explanations is that it takes some of the responsibility off of the perpetrator and places it squarely on the victim.

And victim-blaming is always bad.

A classic example of this occurred in the 1980s, during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. At that time, there were plenty of church-going folks here in Utah and elsewhere who suggested that the syndrome was God’s judgment against homosexuals, and that gays were simply getting what they deserved — “reaping what they sowed,” in Biblical parlance.

And then, when intravenous drug users also started contracting AIDS, it made sense that all of these “bad” people were finally suffering the natural consequences of their sinful actions.

Of course, that theory started to fall apart as soon as straight, clean church-going folk started getting sick, through no fault of their own. And suddenly this smart bomb of God’s righteous indignation — striking with such heretofore surgical accuracy — had become an indiscriminate carpet-bombing campaign that left plenty of inexplicable collateral damage among the “innocent.”

To be clear: We all commit varying degrees of risky behaviors that expose us to unwanted consequences. Sometimes we get away with them, and sometimes we don’t. But leaving aside the whole question of whether what Lueck did that night was “good” or “bad,” I do know that only a bad person would use that behavior to rationalize why a young woman was murdered.

Here’s a quick little test for you ...

Your neighbor, who has smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for most of his life, gets lung cancer and dies. Is your response:

A) “Well, he knew the dangers of smoking. He’s got no one to blame but himself.”

B) “What a tragedy. He was a good man.”

Whether or not either answer is true or false, anything beyond answer “B” is bad form.

This victim-shaming/blaming is especially surprising given the promises made at baptism by members of the predominant religion hereabouts. In one of the revered books of scripture among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a requirement for baptism is to be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light.” Members are also commanded to “mourn with those that mourn,” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

Well, here’s the deal, folks: Mackenzie Lueck’s family and friends are the very definition of those with burdens who are mourning and standing in need of comfort. And to answer these cries of anguish with thinly veiled judgments about their loved one and her life choices?

I’m pretty sure even the morally-challenged Peter Venkman would agree that falls solidly into the “bad” category.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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