The owner of a Fairpark home that was searched overnight Wednesday is a “person of interest” in the disappearance of missing University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown confirmed Thursday morning.
Police are not identifying the man yet, Brown said. He has not been arrested and was free on Thursday morning. He has talked to police detectives, though Brown would not say how cooperative the man has been.
Brown also put out a call to whoever took a mattress and box spring from the house several days ago. The homeowner appears to have used an online exchange platform to dispose of the items.
Detectives and crime scene technicians worked Wednesday night into Thursday morning, searching the house on 1000 West between 500 North and 600 North. Detectives emerged from the gray house about 8 a.m. Thursday, shutting the doors to the home and the unattached garage. They removed the yellow police tape that blocked the driveway and told reporters their work was completed.
Police served a search warrant on Wednesday about midday and by midnight, police were seen carrying shovels into the backyard to dig around a firepit. Bags — of what appeared to be police evidence — were carried out of the house at 1:05 a.m. Police also towed away a car.
Brown said “multiple items of evidence” were removed from the house and are being analyzed by police. “This will take some time,” he said.
The owner of the home previously lived in an apartment that is 0.2 miles away from Hatch Park in North Salt Lake, which is where Lueck was last seen. He has no criminal history in Utah, beyond some traffic citations.
A neighbor said the owner had turned part of the house into a rental that he offers through Airbnb and that people were coming and going from the house regularly.
Neighbors also said they recently saw the owner burning something in his backyard and the smoke was coming into their windows.
Brown stressed that the case “is still a missing persons investigation.” He praised his officers and detectives, who “have been going and running hard since we were contacted Thursday of last week.”
Brown began to choke up as he described talking to Lueck’s father, Greg Lueck. “I can feel the heartache and the pain and the suffering in his voice as we spoke,” Brown said. “My commitment to Greg is we would do everything in our power as the Salt Lake City Police Department to bring MacKenzie home.”
Lueck has been missing since early June 17, when she returned to Salt Lake City from her grandmother’s funeral in California. She texted her mother when her flight landed and then ordered a Lyft for a ride to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake, nearly 9 miles from her home near Trolley Square.
One of Lueck’s friends, Ashley Fine, on Thursday spoke in a new video that she said was produced with permission of the Lueck family.
Fine again asked for the public’s help in finding her friend, and she spoke directly to Lueck.
“Everyone is out looking for you around the country,” Fine said, "and they all want you to know that we’re advocating for you, we’re frightened for you and we’re going to bring you home.”
Police later learned that she had gone to the park to meet someone and arrived around 3 a.m. She hasn’t been seen since. During a news conference Tuesday, police had “exhausted all avenues” of determining who that person was or what they were driving.
Investigators are asking anyone with information on Lueck’s whereabouts or what led to her disappearance to call 801-799-4420.
The Tribune will update this report.
Tribune reporter Sean P. Means contributed to this report.