SALT LAKE CITY — A devoted friend. A dedicated student. A fun, bubbly sorority sister. A kind acquaintance.
Friends, family and strangers of Mackenzie Lueck came together Monday evening, silently and holding electric candles, to remember the 23-year-old slain University of Utah student. Through tearful remarks from university officials and some of Lueck’s closest friends, those at the vigil who did not know Lueck while she was alive could begin to piece together who the California native was: a pre-nursing student who was excited to begin a career helping others, the kind of person who would drop everything to come to the aid of a friend in need.
It was a celebration of life that Lueck would have appreciated, her friend Kennedy Stoner told the crowd gathered on the university lawn.
"Kenzie would light up with joy knowing there are so many people here to support her," Stoner said.
She described her sorority sister as someone who "had a way of making you feel special."
"She loved people and always had a smile on her face," Stoner said. "She always knew how to make you feel loved, and she always knew the right words to say."
Another friend, Juli Cauley, recalled the night before her own graduation from the University of Utah, when she suddenly remembered that she hadn't yet decorated her graduation cap. She asked Lueck for help, and the two of them spent hours looking through designs online and shopping for craft supplies.
The end result, Cauley said through tears, was a beautiful graduation cap. She hoped to someday repay the favor.
"I was really looking forward to helping her put hers on," Cauley said.
She urged those in attendance to hold their loved ones close.
"You never know when that chance will be taken away from you," she said.
The gathering Monday night was initially intended to be a vigil to pray for Lueck's safe return, her friend Ashley Fine told the roughly 200 people gathered. Instead, it became "a night about remembering and mourning."
U. student Sarah Terry, lingering on the lawn after Lueck's friends had finished speaking, said she didn't personally know Lueck, though the two had some mutual friends.
"It was striking how brief it was," Terry said of the remarks from Lueck's friends and university administrators, which lasted no more than half an hour. "But I think that was kind of a testament to how quickly she was taken away."
Madison Barr, a University of Utah law student, had also never met Lueck. She said she wanted to come to the vigil to "show solidarity" with Lueck's loved ones.
Lueck's sudden death has hit the University of Utah community particularly hard, coming less than a year after fellow student Lauren McCluskey was murdered on campus, Barr noted.
"I think it's really beautiful," she said of the show of support for Lueck on Monday.
The vigil came after a weekend of continued evidence collection in anticipation of formal charges being filed against Lueck's suspected killer, 31-year-old Ayoola Ajayi, Salt Lake police confirmed Monday.
Salt Lake Police Sgt. Brandon Shearer declined to say what specifically investigators were looking for, but said one of the warrants was served at Ajayi's house in the Fairpark neighborhood of Salt Lake City, where police have already spent many hours collecting multiple bags of evidence.
Ajayi was arrested Friday and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, desecration of a human body and obstruction of justice. He is being held without bail.
Lueck was last seen around 3 a.m. on June 17, when a Lyft driver dropped her off at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake after picking her up at the Salt Lake City International Airport. She got into someone's car at the park.
Data collected from the cellphones of both Lueck and Ajayi puts them at Hatch Park at the same time that morning, and the two had communicated with each other through texting the evening of June 16, police said Friday.
Investigators also said they recovered burned female human tissue in Ajayi's backyard. The DNA from that tissue matches Lueck's DNA. But police have not specifically said that they've recovered Lueck's body yet, and Chief Mike Brown declined to answer that question when asked last week.
Also Monday, more details were released about a rape investigation involving Ajayi in Cache County in 2014. A woman who contacted police in that case ultimately decided not to file charges, but said she wanted the incident documented "in case he did the same thing to someone else," according to a North Park police report obtained through a public records request.
According to the woman, Ajayi was a co-worker at the time and asked her one day to come over to his residence. Once there, they began "doing stuff," and despite being told "no," Ajayi had intercourse with her, the report states.
The woman said she told herself at the time, "OK, let's get it over," and then went to the hospital for a sexual assault exam afterward, the report states. The woman told police "she felt that it was her fault because she was not assertive enough," and she declined to press charges.
She also told police that after the alleged assault, she avoided Ajayi at work. When she sent him a text telling him "not to contact her ever again," he responded with "what she described as a not so nice text," according to the report.
Since his arrest on Friday, Ajayi's name has been spoken on news channels around the country and appeared in headlines around the world. But it wasn't uttered at the vigil for Lueck on Monday night. Looking out at the silent crowd, Cauley said she wouldn't speak the name of the man suspected of killing her friend, and asked others to do the same.
"There's too many murderers' names that we know," Cauley said. "We don't need to know her (murderer's name)."5 comments on this story
Lueck's name, however, will live on through a nonprofit created by her loved ones. The organization, Mackenzie's Voice, will help other missing persons and their families. And her friends, Fine told the mourners gathered, will continue to advocate for victims of violence in the Salt Lake community.
"While Mackenzie's story is tragic, it is also a story of friendship and the strong bonds of women," Fine said.
"This person took away our friend," she continued. "But he will not take away our strength."