SALT LAKE CITY — A man whose home was searched as police investigate the disappearance of a Utah college student was named a “person of interest” in the case Thursday, and police were trying to find a mattress that had been inside his home.
The announcement came shortly after authorities spent about 19 hours searching the man’s home in a middle class Salt Lake City neighborhood. Neighbors described officers entering the home with shovels and police dogs. Investigators were also seen taking large brown bags out of the house.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said the homeowner spoke with investigators but was not in custody and declined to name him. But authorities said they believe the house has an unspecified connection to the disappearance of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck.
Online court and property records identify the man as 31, divorced this year and with no criminal record in Utah. The Associated Press is not naming him because authorities have not done so.
Investigators want to find a mattress and box spring they say the homeowner gave away last week, and speak with whoever took it, Brown said.
Lueck disappeared June 17 after taking a Lyft from the city’s airport to a park, where police said she met someone at about 3 a.m. They have said the Lyft driver had no connection with her disappearance.
The home that police searched Wednesday into Thursday is about 5 miles from the park.
Brown would not say if the homeowner met Lueck at the park, or if police have identified the person she met there.
Police generally use the term “person of interest” for someone they believe might have information about a crime that leads to a suspect, or may be eventually become a suspect.
The homeowner has lived there about two years and has rented out part of it on Airbnb, said next-door neighbor Tom Camomile. Before he moved there, he lived briefly in an apartment and did coding work from home, said roommate Zach Slater, who lived with him in 2015. He remembered him as a quiet, nice roommate who dated a number of women.
Camomile said the man was friendly and that the two discussed landscaping improvements he made shortly after moving in, but said the neighbor became withdrawn over the last several months. He said the man in recent months stopped keeping up his yard as well as he had before.
Camomile said he never saw anyone matching Lueck’s description at the house and last saw the homeowner last Saturday bring in his trash cans.
Lueck is a part-time student at the University of Utah in her senior year majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing. She has been a student since 2014 and has an off-campus apartment.
She is from El Segundo in the Los Angeles area and flew to California for a funeral before returning to Salt Lake City, police said. Her family reported her missing on June 20 and became more concerned after she missed a planned flight back to Los Angeles last weekend.
The police chief told reporters he has spoken with her father, Greg Lueck, and felt “the heartache and the pain and the suffering in his voice as we spoke.”
Investigators are tracking Lueck’s activity on social media and whether she had another phone as they look for clues about who she met at the park. They are also looking into her romantic life, including whether she dated older men, though it’s unclear whether that might have any connection to her disappearance, said police spokesman Greg Wilking.
“This is a digital forensic investigation,” Brown said. “This is very complicated and it has a digital footprint that our investigators have been following.”
Lueck’s close friend, Ashley Fine, uploaded a new video Thursday onto the “Find Mackenzie Lueck” Facebook page. She pleaded with people to call police with any information.
“Everyone around the country is looking for you. We’re advocating for you, we’re fighting for you, and we’re going to bring you home safely,” Fine said.
Another friend, Kennedy Stoner, said she was frustrated with speculation on social media suggesting Lueck was reckless, saying her behavior the night she disappeared was “totally out of character.”
Lueck is “motherly and nurturing,” Stoner said. “She’s a genuine person who tries to make everyone feel appreciated and loved.”
SALT LAKE CITY — The family of a University of Utah student shot on campus sued the institution on Thursday, saying officials refused to take responsibility for missing chances to prevent her death despite multiple reports to police.
Lauren McCluskey’s parents said they hope the suit can help protect other women at risk of dating violence on college campuses. Track athlete McCluskey, 21, was fatally shot Oct. 22, 2018, after she broke up with her boyfriend of a month because he lied about his name, age and status as a sex offender.
University officials missed warning signs of dating violence and made no effort to end the harassment or bar the killer, Melvin Shawn Rowland, from being on campus, the lawsuit claims.
Jill McCluskey teared up at during a news conference as she recalled her daughter’s efforts to reach university police. The lawsuit alleges her daughter reached out to campus police more than 20 times to report concerns about Rowland. Her friends also reported concerns to dormitory officials, the lawsuit said.
“They tried to minimize her and have her go away, they were not caring, they were not helpful,” she said.
The family is seeking $56 million in damages but say any money would go to a trust designed to improve campus safety.
University of Utah president Ruth Watkins said in a statement that college would respond to the lawsuit through the court system but expressed “deep sorrow” for McCluskey’s death.
“While there are differences in how we would characterize some of the events leading to Lauren’s tragic murder, let me say again that we share the McCluskey family’s commitment to improving campus safety,” Watkins said.
An independent review commissioned by the university found multiple missed warning signs before she was found shot in a car, but president Ruth Watkins has insisted there’s no reason to believe Rowland could have been stopped. Rowland, 37, killed himself after gunning down McCluskey as she returned from a night class, authorities said.
The university has pledged to act on the report’s findings, but authorities didn’t discipline anyone.
Matthew McCluskey, the woman’s father, said the university has chosen a path of “defensiveness, denial and no accountability.”
Reports about Rowland began more than a month before her death, when her friends told housing officials he was controlling and talking about guns. That report never made it to police because of technical problems submitting it and concerns about overstepping into Lauren McCluskey’s private life.
Ten days later, her mother called university police saying she was worried about her daughter’s safety and requesting an officer accompany Lauren McCluskey as she got her car back from her ex-boyfriend.
On Oct. 12, she told university police that Rowland’s friends appeared to be trying to lure her off campus into a trap with fake texts. In the subsequent days, she reported he was extorting her by threatening to post compromising photos of her online.
He later left a message posing as a police officer in an apparent attempt to get her to leave her university apartment, but that report also did not appear to raise serious alarm.
She was told at one point there was little officers could do without a direct physical threat. Investigators did not discover that he was a recent parolee and sex offender.
Campus police “refused to respond to the reports based on the assumption that Lauren, like most women, was unreasonable, hysterical, hypersensitive, paranoid, overreacting to the situation and not being truthful,” the lawsuit alleges.
The university has said they take the case seriously, and pledged to run more-frequent checks that identify ex-convicts. They’ve also promised to fix police understaffing by hiring more officers and increasing training, as well as streamlining communications between housing officials and police.
McCluskey received a track scholarship following a standout high school career in Pullman, Washington. She finished second in the state for the 100 hurdles and fifth in the high jump in her senior year. She specialized in jumping events in college and ranks 10th all-time at Utah in the pentathlon.
An employee at a greenhouse was killed in an industrial incident Thursday morning, according to the Orem Police Department.
Officials reported Efren Perez-Sanchez, of Lindon, was working at Cook’s Farm and Greenhouse at 1645 W. 1600 North in Orem around 8:20 a.m., said Lt. Trent Colledge with the Orem Police Department.
The 39-year-old was using an air tank to spray down the greenhouse when the tank exploded and struck him.
Officers and investigators with Occupational Safety and Health Administration are still working to determine whether negligence was a factor in the incident.
The greenhouse and farm comprise 13 acres and is expected to be closed for two days, according to investigators.
Orem city employees have been receiving training on how to help youth and adults who live with anxiety and depression through United Way of Utah County’s EveryDay Strong City program.
According to the Brain and Behavior Foundation, 31% of adults suffer with anxiety disorder sometime in their life, and one out of eight children deal with anxiety and depression.
The United Way of Utah County is hoping cities will step forward to help with this growing concern and become EveryDay Strong communities.
“We are thrilled that Orem city is stepping up to be the first EveryDay Strong City,” said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County.
Hulterstrom said the main pillar of the EveryDay Strong City program is to be a reminder that there are things caring adults can do every day to help children and others with anxiety and depression.
Brenn Bybee, assistant city manager, who is helping direct the program, said he has youth close to him that struggle with severe anxiety and depression to the point of taking their own life.
“Whether as a parent, grandparent, teacher, friend, neighbor or City of Orem employee, I truly believe we can all start building everyday resilience with this program by building safety, connection and confidence in the children around us,” Bybee said. “As such, EveryDay Strong principles and activity ideas have been showcased on the city of Orem’s intranet, website and social media networks.
“Community and school workshops are also in the works to help the city better reach our residents. In other words, not only do we want to learn these principles ourselves, we want to help our entire community learn them as well.”
The EveryDay Strong City program teaches new communications skills and observation skills. Those taking the training are taught to look and see if children appear to be physically and mentally safe and if they feel confident and connected to others.
Whether it’s maintaining city parks, processing a passport application, checking out a book in the library or responding to a public safety emergency, Bybee said residents and city personnel have regular instances in Orem wherein they are interacting with the youth in the city.
Kena Mathews, director of community outreach in Orem, said there is a concern because of the prevalent suicide rate among youth in the community.
People who work particularly with youth like the public library, police and the fitness center, are the first to be trained. According to Mathews, this fall they will be working closely with schools and pediatricians in the area.
It’s not just the children and youth who have anxiety and depression. Orem is also taking the program training to the Senior Friendship Center.
Hulterstrom said he would like to see all cities in the county sign up for the program and training. Right now, only Orem is participating. Saratoga Springs has applied for a grant to help with the program and is expecting to join in soon.