SALT LAKE CITY — Charges have been filed against a Salt Lake City man accused of killing a 23-year-old University of Utah student.
Ayoola Adisa Ajayi, 31, is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated kidnapping, both first-degree felonies. He is also charged with abuse or desecration of a human body, a third-degree felony, and obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.
Mackenzie Lueck was reported missing on June 20 after she was last seen days before on June 17; she had just returned to Salt Lake City from a funeral in California and took a Lyft from the airport to a park in North Salt Lake. Leuck was attending the University of Utah and had been a student since 2014.
In an Associated Press report, Salt Lake City Chief Mike Brown was described as emotional during a Friday morning press conference and spoke of his informing the missing woman’s family 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.”
A man representing her family spoke at the press conference and said, “They’re also grateful to her community, her friends and others around the nation who have supported this investigation.”
Charging documents, filed Friday afternoon, indicate that Ajayi and Lueck were both in the same area of Hatch Park in North Salt Lake around 3 a.m. on June 17; Brown also stated on Friday that phone data placed both of them at the park within a minute of each other.
Brown declined to say in the press conference exactly how Lueck and Ajayi got in touch or communicated. He did however share that Ajayi 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, Associated Press reported.
Neighbors of Ajayi told police that he appeared to be burning something in his backyard between the dates of June 17-18, according to charging documents. Police are also searching for an individual that picked up a mattress listed for free that was disposed of during that timeframe.
During a search of Ajayi’s home, police found a “fresh dig area” on Ajayi’s property, which was the same place his neighbor told police he was burning something.
When the area was excavated, police found “several charred items” that appeared to be personal items of Lueck’s. Other tests were performed on charred material found at the home, which appeared to be “female human tissue,” according to charging documents.
Police made a DNA profile for Lueck and compared the profile to materials found in the home. The DNA profile for Lueck was consistent with the DNA profile for materials found at the scene.
Charging documents say Ajayi appears to be a “substantial danger to any other person or to the community.” Online, he describes himself as working in technical support and self-published a book titled “Forge Identity” about a 15-year-old boy in Africa who witnessed multiple murders by burning to death.
Ajayi was arrested without incident earlier Friday morning by a SWAT team, according to the Associated Press.
An order to hold Ajayi in jail without bail filed Friday afternoon indicates there is “substantial evidence” to charge him with a capital felony, which means Ajayi could face a potential death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ajayi is being held at the Salt Lake County Jail. As of Friday afternoon, Ajayi did not have an attorney listed in online court documents. He has yet to be assigned to a judge in Salt Lake City’s 3rd District Court.
In 2014, Ajayi was a suspect in a sex offense/rape investigation while he was living in the North Logan area, according to a press release from the North Park Police Department. However, no charges were filed after the victim in the case did not want to pursue charges. Ajayi lived in the North Logan area from 2013 to 2015, the release said.
The Weber County Sheriff’s Office offered their condolences in a Facebook post to Lueck’s family and friends. They commended the Salt Lake City Police Department for their work and said that cases like this are difficult for everyone, including law enforcement.
“We are grateful for the dedication of the Salt Lake Police Department, and the professional manner they handled this case,” the post read.
The Associated Press reported the Salt Lake City Police chief said investigators were seeking to determine if others were involved. Chief Mike Brown indicated that a second person was questioned at the time of his arrest and later released.
Associated Press contributed to this report.