A heartbroken University of Utah remembered slain student Mackenzie Lueck on Monday night, just days after a Salt Lake City man was arrested and charged with her murder.
The Find MacKenzie Lueck Facebook page and the University of Utah student government hosted the vigil at the university’s Union Lawn. Students and members of the community gathered to remember Lueck – a pre-nursing and kinesiology student known to her friends as “Kenzie.”
The 23-year-old was described by friends and family as “a nurturer.”
“She’s almost a mother to me,” Kennedy Stoner, one of Lueck’s sorority sisters at Alpha Chi Omega, told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week.
The crowd was silent as Lueck’s friends shared their memories of a bubbly, caring person who loved spending time with her family and looked forward to a future career in medicine or health care.
“Everyone who knew Kenzie knew how fun she was to be around. She was a people pleaser,” Stone said through tears as she spoke at the vigil. “It breaks my heart knowing she died alone in such a scary place.”
Salt Lake City police have searched the home of a man they call a person of interest in the disappearance of a college student. Mackenzie Lueck, 23, disappeared after taking a Lyft June 17 from an airport to a park. (June 27)
Drew Crawford, a recent graduate of the university, said the vigil was a sobering reminder of his privilege.
“She doesn’t get to graduate, or experience life after college,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine this happening to me or my family.”
Others couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Lueck’s vigil and the one held for another slain University of Utah student, Lauren McCluskey, who was killed by her ex-boyfriend on campus last year.
“It’s awful that this is the situation that makes the community come together, but it’s good to see how large of a crowd comes out to support,” said Kendall Smith-Williams, a sophomore at the university.
Stoner started a fundraising page to help Lueck’s family with steep funeral costs.
“We appreciate all of the kind words, thoughts, prayers, and time that has gone into finding Kenzie,” the GoFundMe description reads. “If you are able to donate, it would be greatly appreciated.”
Salt Lake City police arrested Ayoola Ajayi, 31, on Friday on suspicion of aggravated murder, kidnapping and desecration of a body. When police searched Ajayi’s home with a search warrant, they discovered burned evidence, including personal items and Lueck’s remains.
Lueck was last seen June 17 by a Lyft driver who dropped her at a park after driving her from the Salt Lake City Airport. She reportedly met someone in a car around 3 a.m., who police now believe was Ajayi.
“We will continue to look into this situation to determine if he acted alone or if he had help,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said. “Salt Lake City is a tight-knit, caring, family-oriented community and I hope that we can all work together to help prevent this from ever happening again.”
It is not yet apparent why the two met up or whether they had any prior relationship, but police said they communicated electronically June 16, the day before Lueck disappeared.
Ajayi has no criminal history apart from some traffic citations, according to online court and property records. A contractor told ABC News that Ajayi asked him to build a secret, soundproof room in his house. The contractor said he declined the job.
Ben Haynes, communications manager for the Salt Lake City District Attorney’s office, said the office is still examining evidence and has yet to file formal charges against Ajayi.
At the end of the press conference, Brown relayed Lueck’s parents’ appreciation for the support they’ve received.
“Greg wanted me to say, again, they are so thankful to the officers and staff of the police department, the community of Salt Lake City and those across the nation that have shown compassion and tried to help in the search for Mackenzie,” Brown said.
Lueck’s friends told Fox News that they planned to start a non-profit organization called “Mackenzie’s Voice” to honor their friend and provide resources to others who have experienced trauma.
“All of her friends and her family can see what a huge light of our lives is, and this man stole our friend away from us, and she’s gone way too soon,” Ashley Fine, one of Lueck’s friends, told Fox News.
“And, it’s just not fair.”
Contributing: The Associated Press