(SALT LAKE CITY) — Friends of slain University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck came together in grief and resilience at a vigil on campus Monday night.
Lueck’s friend and sorority sister, Kennedy Stoner, said she wanted to “voice how angry I am with the suspect and how he took my best friend away from me, her family, her sisters…”
“It breaks my heart knowing she died alone in such a scary place,” Stoner said through tears.
Lueck, a 23-year-old California native and lover of animals, had been missing in the Salt Lake City area for nearly two weeks before her suspected killer was arrested on Friday.
Ayoola Ajayi, 31, was booked on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body, police said.
Charred tissue was recovered with DNA consistent with samples found on Lueck’s belongings, police said.
“Words cannot begin to describe the amount of sadness and pain we’re all feeling,” friend Ashley Fine said at the vigil. “Everyone that knew Mackenzie loved her and she is so greatly missed.”
“While Mackenzie’s story is tragic, it is also a story of friendship and the strong bonds of women,” Fine said.
Fine said she hopes to honor Lueck through acts of kindness. She said their friends also want to start a foundation in her name to help victims and their families.
Fine vowed, “This person took away our friend, but he will not take away our strength. We will continue to advocate for victims of violence in our community and will continue to use Mackenzie’s voice for good.”
Lueck, a kinesiology major who was planning to graduate next year, was last seen in the early hours of June 17.
She landed at Salt Lake City International Airport around 2 a.m. and then took a Lyft from the airport to Hatch Park in north Salt Lake City, police said.
The Lyft driver told police that Lueck met an individual in the park and did not appear to be in distress, police said. She was never seen again.
Authorities later determined Lueck’s last communication was with Ajayi, said police. Phone records show that Lueck and Ajayi were both at Hatch Park within less than one minute of each other, according to authorities.
During a search of Ajayi’s home, his neighbors told police they saw him using gasoline to burn something in his backyard on June 17 and 18, police said. “Several charred items consistent with personal items of Mackenzie Lueck” were found in his yard, according to police.
Ajayi has not yet appeared in court.
“She had a way of making you feel special,” Stoner said of Lueck at Monday’s vigil. “She loved helping people and always had a smile on her face.”
“She always knew how to make you feel loved and she always knew the right words to say,” Stoner said.
Overcome with emotion, Stoner paused.
“She did not have a voice during her disappearance and time of death,” Stoner said through tears. “But I want to continue to be that voice.”
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