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Police say homeowner is person of interest in missing Utah student case

SALT LAKE CITY — The owner of an Airbnb searched extensively by Salt Lake police is now considered a "person of interest" in the disappearance of missing University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck, Chief Mike Brown announced Thursday.

But no one has been arrested and the man, 31, was released from police custody after being questioned by detectives. Brown said the investigation is still considered a "missing persons" case and has not been elevated to something more serious.

This undated photo taken from the Facebook page #FindMackenzieLueck shows a Mackenzie Lueck, 23, a senior at the University of Utah.
This undated photo taken from the Facebook page #FindMackenzieLueck shows a Mackenzie Lueck, 23, a senior at the University of Utah.
Associated Press

"No arrests have been made. However, the owner of the residence where we served a warrant last night is a person of interest,” Brown announced at a press conference Thursday.

Brown also said police were looking for a mattress and box springs that the homeowner listed for "free" on the website LetGo five days ago. The chief wants whoever claimed that mattress to contact his detectives.

Brown's announcements came on the heels of an active evening when a large number of Salt Lake police officers worked through the night collecting evidence at a home in Salt Lake City suspected of being connected to the disappearance of Lueck, who was last seen 10 days ago.

Police were even seen digging holes in the backyard of the house in the Fairpark neighborhood at 547 N. 1000 West. The holes were being dug in or near an area where at least one neighbor said a fire had recently been set. Brown said his detectives had also heard about the fire, but he did not know how it might fit into their investigation, and the Salt Lake City Fire Department said Thursday that it has never recorded any calls about a fire at the house.

Police dig in the backyard of a house at 547 N. 1000 West in Salt Lake City in the early hours of Thursday, June 27, 2019. Salt Lake police are now considering the owner of that property as a person of interest in the disappearance of University of Utah s
Police dig in the backyard of a house at 547 N. 1000 West in Salt Lake City in the early hours of Thursday, June 27, 2019. Salt Lake police are now considering the owner of that property as a person of interest in the disappearance of University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck.
Derek Petersen, Deseret News

While discussion of a possible fire was among the topics being discussed around the neighborhood Thursday, several neighbors said they hadn’t seen or smelled any recent fires in the home’s backyard.

One of those neighbors was Tom Camomile, who lives next door. Camomile said he would be "shocked" if his neighbor was involved in Lueck’s disappearance. He described the man next door as a "very private" "computer geek" who is also "very friendly," and said the two had often exchanged yard work tips.

"It’s alarming and it’s a little unnerving and unsettling," Camomile said of the investigation. "If someone were to walk up to me and say (he was involved), I would say absolutely not. I think he’s a man of high integrity. But then, you never know anyone."

While Camomile and other neighbors said they frequently saw Airbnb guests coming and going from the home, Camomile described his neighbor’s house as generally quiet and non-disruptive.

The chief confirmed Thursday that "multiple items of evidence” were collected from the house and were in the process of being tested. He did not say if any evidence was collected from the digging. A car was also towed from the scene by police, while several paper bags and a large box from Palmetto State Armory, a South Carolina-based company selling firearms and tactical gear, were carried out of the house in the early morning hours.

There is still no direct evidence suggesting Lueck had been harmed or foul play was involved, Brown said Thursday. But he said he is concerned about her well-being, just as any parent who had not heard from a loved one would be.

The house that was searched was listed as an Airbnb until midmorning Thursday when it was taken off the home rental website. Neighbors said the man who lived there rented out the basement of the house through Airbnb and lived in the upper level.

The home at 547 N. 1000 West in Rose Park where Salt Lake City police served a search warrant in relation to missing Mackenzie Lueck is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
The home at 547 N. 1000 West in Rose Park where Salt Lake City police served a search warrant in relation to missing Mackenzie Lueck is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Brown declined to say what specifically led investigators to the house, other than noting that it was a "very active and ongoing investigation," part of which includes "digital footprints."

"This is a digital forensic investigation. This is covering computers, cellphones, IP addresses, URL addresses, texting apps. So this is very complicated and it has a digital footprint that our investigators have been following since last Thursday,” Brown said.

When asked about activity that was reported on Lueck's Instagram account on Wednesday, Brown said he was aware of that, but could not comment.

"All those things you’re seeing, we’re looking at in great detail,” he said.

Lueck, 23, was last seen early on the morning of June 17 when she flew into Salt Lake City International Airport after attending a family funeral in her hometown of El Segundo, California. Surveillance video at the airport recorded Lueck making her way to baggage claim, and then getting into a Lyft vehicle.

The Lyft driver told police he dropped off Lueck at Hatch Park in North Salt Lake about 3 a.m. where another person in a car was waiting for her. As of Wednesday, Salt Lake police had not been able to identify that person or even the make and model of that car.

Texts and social media have become a focus on the investigation. There has been attention given to dating apps Lueck was allegedly on, including at least one that connects "sugar babies" with "sugar daddies."

On Wednesday, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition released a statement asking the public to focus on finding Lueck and not to victim shame.

"The recent disappearance of Mackenzie Lueck has resulted in many people speculating on what may have happened to her and why — with much of the speculation being a blatant form of victim blaming. While we do not know the details of Mackenzie’s disappearance, we do know that victim blaming and shaming is inappropriate and unacceptable. In addition to perpetuating myths about abuse, assault, and violence, victim blaming wrongly excuses the perpetrator’s behaviors," the coalition said in a prepared statement.

"Our focus should solely be on the safety and well-being of Mackenzie Lueck."

Meanwhile, little else has been released about the person of interest, the first police have announced in the case. The Deseret News has chosen not to name him at this time.

The man used to live in North Salt Lake right across the street from Hatch Park, according to court records. He and his roommates were evicted from that apartment in 2016 for failing to pay rent, according to court documents. Outside of traffic tickets, the man has no signficant criminal history in Utah.

Neighbors said the man who owns the house is quiet and mostly keeps to himself.

Brown said he has personally spoken with Lueck's father on the phone over the past couple of days.

"And I can tell you," the chief said, pausing, "I can feel the heartache, pain, and the suffering in his voice as he spoke.”

Brown also thanked his officers who have been working nonstop since getting the case.

"We have been going and running hard from the moment we were contacted last Thursday,” he said.

This story will be updated throughout the day as more information becomes available.

Contributing: Gretel Kauffman