SALT LAKE CITY — The body of a slain college student has been recovered in a Utah canyon about 85 miles away from a backyard in Salt Lake City where other remains were found last week, police said Friday.
The disclosure came in the case involving 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck.
Authorities previously said some of her charred remains and personal belongings were found in a suspect’s backyard in Salt Lake City. The body was discovered Wednesday in Logan Canyon, north of the city.
“I spoke with Mackenzie’s family this morning. Another devastating call,” Salt Lake City police Chief Mike Brown said. “Despite their grief, we hope this will help them find some closure and justice for Mackenzie.”
The canyon is near Utah State University, where 31-year-old suspect Ayoola A. Ajayi sporadically attended classes for several years without earning a degree.
Lueck disappeared June 17, after she returned from a trip to her hometown of El Segundo, California, for her grandmother’s funeral and took a Lyft from the airport to a park where she met someone.
Ajayi was the last person she communicated with, and his cellphone puts him in the park at the same time as Lueck, police have said.
He’s being held on suspicion of aggravated murder, kidnapping and other crimes. Charges are expected to be filed next week, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said.
No attorney has been listed for Ajayi.
Police have not discussed a motive for the killing or how Lueck died. It isn’t clear how Ajayi and Lueck knew each other.
Authorities did not take questions at a Friday news conference or provide other details about the case.
Lueck was missing for nearly two weeks before Ajayi was arrested.
Lueck has been remembered as a bubbly, nurturing person. She was a member of a sorority and a part-time senior at the University of Utah studying kinesiology and pre-nursing.
Ajayi is an information technology worker who had stints with high-profile companies and was briefly in the Army National Guard.
He has no criminal history but was investigated in a 2014 rape allegation and was arrested in a stolen iPad case at Utah State in 2012. The arrest and the expiration of his student visa led to him being banned from the campus for about three years.
A native of Nigeria, Ajayi is now a U.S. citizen, records show.
His ex-wife has told reporters she was afraid of him, and police have investigated a report that he asked a contractor to build a secretive and soundproof room in his home.
Neighbors reported a fire in his backyard at the time Lueck disappeared, police have said.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski commended investigators handling the case.
“I and this community are here for the Lueck family as you continue to go through this process of grieving, of seeking justice and letting go of your loved one in a very tragic circumstance,” she said.
Long before she met her fiance on Tinder, Meagan Pinales decided she wanted George Washington to officiate her wedding.
“It was in the back of my mind, like that’s going to happen because that would be cool,” she said with a grin.
For years, her family has performed in colonial re-enactments across the country. Her parents usually dress up as Benjamin Franklin and his wife, and she and her siblings helped make the outfits and act as historical figures.
Pinales said even though she wanted a certain character and actor to officiate the ceremony, it was actually her boyfriend’s idea to hold the wedding at the Colonial Heritage Festival in Orem.
“He has never reenacted a day in his life,” she added. “That was a huge surprise.”
Her mother often teased that one of her four children should hold a colonial-style wedding.
“It just kind of happened,” Pinales said with a laugh.
At least 200 people crowded together to watch the ceremony in Orem on Friday afternoon. Family members and friends sat in designated spots around a large blacksmith anvil that served in place of an altar.
For her wedding gown, Pinales hand-stitched a white floral print dress and a copper petticoat for her gown, and Ed Burns wore an officer’s coat and a kilt to go along with the backstory of his character.
Dan Shippey, acting as George Washington, received his marriage licensing specifically for the wedding. He officiated dressed in a three-cornered hat, waistcoat and a blue wool coat with rows of yellow buttons.
“On a forge, you find two pieces of metal are joined together to become one. We today are joining two lives together to become one,” he said. “Never should lives be joined together without it being recognized that it will, in fact, be work.”
Since the real George Washington never performed any weddings, Shippey said he had to make up something both authentic and genuine for the ceremony. He quoted scriptures from 1 Corinthians and urged the couple to show love to each other through actions and not just feelings.
“While it was feelings that drove you together, feelings will not ever keep you together,” he said. “Everything described here is what would be described as an action. Not a feeling, but something that is done.”
Exactly one year ago, Burns proposed to Pinales on nearly the same spot where the marriage took place.
Last July, he persuaded the colonial soldiers to arrest Pinales as she worked at the festival and Shippey scolded her as George Washington. Since she was an unmarried woman in a camp full of soldiers, Shippey said he would send her away unless someone would marry her. That was the moment Burns stepped out of the general’s tent and proposed.
“I figured that it would be something she wanted,” Burns said.
After the marriage ceremony and ring exchange, the family gathered under nearby trees for pictures. The bride’s parents, Gregg and Katherine Hardy, played Benjamin Franklin and his wife. Both agreed the wedding was fairly stress-free until the last 24 hours rushing to get everything ready.
“From start to finish, I thought it was delightful,” Gregg Hardy said.
Pinales said she plans to continue doing reenactments at different celebrations around the country as often as she can.
“Eddie might too, depending on the spot,” she said, giving her husband a nudge.
“Probably not,” he said, laughing. “Maybe.”
On Thursday morning, the giant flag named Big Betsy was unfurled in the canyon above Pleasant Grove — as it has been every year since 2015.
On Thursday afternoon, the flag — which is more than a quarter-acre in size — was damaged as a windy rainstorm blew through the area.
Follow the Flag organizers said that the microburst storm damaged the flag beyond repair. They said that after consideration, they decided it would be the last flight for Big Betsy.
“We have flown this flag many times and it has many scars on it, and that was a weakness,” Follow the Flag organizer Kyle Fox said in a Facebook video Thursday night. “We lost a big spot at the bottom, completely ripped out, and it completely ripped out across the header, so we’ve kind of determined that this will the last time that we fly this one. Maybe she will become a display flag, so she’s not done altogether.”
Even though the flag came down several days early on Friday morning, the canyon won’t be without a flag. The Ogden chapter of Follow the Flag offered up its flag named “The Major” to fly in the canyon in Big Betsy’s place.
The Major — measuring 150 feet by 78 feet — was made in honor of Major Brent Taylor, the mayor of North Ogden who died in Afghanistan in November 2018, leaving behind his wife and seven children.
Brent Taylor’s 40th birthday would be Saturday, and The Major flag will be flying on that day.
At Thursday’s By Dawn’s Early Light ceremony, Follow the Flag founder Kyle Fox related the story of hearing about Brent Taylor’s death.
“When I heard on the news that American hero Major Mayor Brent Taylor had passed away, I initially wanted to fly a flag for him,” Fox said.
Fox said that life got in the way, and he didn’t get it done. However, a phone call came requesting the flag to be flown.
Within 72 hours, Big Betsy was flying in Coldwater Canyon near North Ogden in honor of Major Brent Taylor.
Brent Taylor’s wife Jennie also spoke Thursday morning in Pleasant Grove at the flag unfurling ceremony when Big Betsy was released.
“I’ll never forget the last time i saw Big Betsy fly in a canyon,” Jennie Taylor said. “Actually, it was also the first time I saw her fly, and it was on a cold and windy autumn morning, Veteran’s Day morning in fact.”
It was one week after Brent Taylor had been killed.
Jennie Taylor said that Sunday morning, her sister picked her and her seven children up to take them for what she thought was a Sunday morning drive. She related that they drove to Barker Park in North Ogden. Her sister led her up to the berm at the top of the amphitheater where the first thing she saw was a small American Flag on a PVC pipe and then she caught her first glimpse of Big Betsy.
“There are certain images of our beautiful Star Spangled Banner that are simply emblazoned on the very flesh of my heart forever,” Jennie Taylor said. “I’ll never forget what I saw and felt that morning.”
Fox said that when Big Betsy sustained damage Thursday, he didn’t reach out to the Ogden chapter because he “didn’t want to take the thunder out of flying a brand new flag in our canyon, take that away from them at all.”
The Major was originally supposed to have its initial flight Nov. 2-12 in Coldwater Canyon, on the anniversary of Brent Taylor’s death and for Veterans Day.
But organizers said that when there was a need in North Ogden, Fox and his team jumped at the chance to help, and the action was reciprocated by the Ogden chapter.
Last July 4, Big Betsy also sustained damage. During its unfurling in 2018, a pull string snagged and broke. The flag could not fully unfurl, and started to rip. High winds blowing through the canyon caused more damage.
Volunteers brought the flag back to Pleasant Grove High School’s football field, where they were able to repair it.
The Major will fly through Monday evening, when it will be taken down. A flag retirement ceremony will be held at 8 that evening.
Other events Follow the Flag are hosting this weekend include the Battle Beneath the Flag CrossFit competition, a Freedom Ride motorcycle ride and the Run2Remember 5k trail run, all on Saturday. More information can be found at http://followtheflag.org.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for donations to replace Big Betsy.
The Long Hollow Fire in Spanish Fork Canyon was 60% contained Friday, compared to 20% contained Thursday night, according to information shared by the U.S. Forest Service.
The fire also did not grow, remaining at 70 acres. Suzi Tenhagen with the U.S. Forest Service said they expect to have the fire fully contained Friday or Saturday.
“Everything’s going according to plan,” she said.
If firefighters have to deal with gusting winds, that could change things, but Tenhagen said they’re still feeling confident and will likely be releasing some of the crews and personnel that have been fighting the fire later Friday. At least one helicopter of the two that were assisting has been released as of Friday afternoon.
Responders are working to create a “safe space” around the fire, Tenhagen said, to prevent it from growing, and an engine on the ground is working to spray “hot spots” and other potential flare-up zones.
The fire ignited Wednesday evening on the north side of U.S. Highway 6 near Covered Bridge. Tenhagen said the fire is human-caused, but it’s still under investigation.
Last year, just before the Run2Remember 5K and 6K races began, trail runner Derrik Jenkins had just come down the hill after a run at Grove Creek Canyon.
He inquired about the upcoming race and then signed up on the spot. Not only that, but he won the 6K race.
Just a few months later on Oct. 31, Jenkins went for a run in American Fork Canyon and died from injuries sustained in a fall while running up Box Elder Peak.
This year’s Run2Remember will honor Jenkins and serve as a fundraiser for Jenkins’ two young daughters. The proceeds from the race will be put into a trust for the two girls’ college educations.
“It just seemed right,” said Kyle Fox, Follow the Flag founder. “That’s what the race is about — running for someone you miss, someone you love.”
The Run2Remember race is an annual event that is part of the Follow the Flag activities held every July during the week of Independence Day.
“He was a really great trail runner,” said Patrick Oborn, Run2Remember organizer, about Jenkins. “He flew down that hill.”
Jenkins was a peak bagger — someone who runs to peaks of mountains. He was trying to reach as many peaks as he could in a year’s time.
Runners, joggers and even walkers are encouraged to join the race. Oborn said that many of Jenkins’ friends are already signed up to run the race in his honor.
According to Oborn, the 5K is a regular race that will run along the outside of Grove Creek Canyon. The ending is downhill and racers will finish beneath a giant American flag that will be flying above the trailhead.
The 6K race is more challenging, which includes running a very steep hill. “Runners will grab a flag and post it on top of the hill,” Fox said.
Every finisher will receive a handcrafted leather Follow the Flag medal. A $200 bonus will be given to someone who can beat Jenkins’ winning 6K time from last year, which was 28:15.
The Run2Remember will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 6 at the Grove Creek trailhead in Pleasant Grove. To register and for a full list of all of the Follow the Flag events, go to http://FollowTheFlag.org. Those wanting to participate can also register at the time of the race. More information can be found on the Follow the Flag Facebook page.