Friends of slain Utah college student Mackenzie Lueck held hands in the front row of a courtroom on Monday as her alleged killer made his first court appearance.
The suspect, Ayoola A. Ajayi, a tech worker, appeared by video from jail alongside a court-appointed attorney during a quick hearing to set a future court date. He did not speak or enter a plea to murder, kidnapping and other charges.
Prosecutors said Ajayi killed Lueck, 23, who died from blunt-force trauma to the head. Police said her body was found with her arms bound behind her in a canyon 85 miles from Ajayi’s home.
Lueck’s friends said after the hearing that they’re relieved a suspect is behind bars. They said seeing Ajayi by video in court was shocking, sad and enraging.
One friend, Ashley Fine said they don’t plan to say his name or give him any attention moving forward, but are following the legal process to make sure Lueck gets justice.
“We are all still in extreme shock. Even right now I feel like I could call her and text her and she would answer,” Fine said. “We didn’t get to say goodbye to our friend.”
They said they still have many questions, including why Lueck was chosen and if the killing was planned. They said they don’t know how she and the suspect might have been connected.
“What did she do to deserve this?” Kennedy Stoner asked.
Authorities have not discussed a motive or any suspected link between the victim and the accused.
Ajayi’s court-appointed attorney, Neal Hamilton, didn’t say anything during the hearing about the charges and the public defender’s office has said it will not be commenting on the case.
Lueck disappeared shortly after she returned from a trip to her California hometown in June for the funeral of her grandmother, and took a Lyft from the airport to a park. She exchanged text messages with Ajayi, 31, and met him there, but her phone was turned off a minute after the last text and never turned back on, prosecutors have said.
Ajayi is an information technology worker and was briefly in the Army National Guard.
He was investigated in a 2014 rape allegation and was arrested in a stolen-iPad case at Utah State University 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 holds a green card that allows him to legally work and live in the U.S., prosecutors have said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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