Emotions flow at vigil for slain U of U student

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown comforts a grieving friend of MacKenzie Lueck at a vigil on Monday, July 1, 2019. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 1, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Friends and supporters of University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck — the subject of an intensive and hopeful search for nearly a dozen days before the worst possible news was confirmed — gathered Monday evening for a vigil to remember how she lived the 23 years of her life before its sudden and violent end.

Aggravated murder and kidnapping charges were filed Friday after the crime-scene search of a residence in the Fairpark area of Salt Lake City, and the SWAT team arrest of the 31-year-old suspect.

But Monday’s vigil was not about him. It was about the kindness and friendship MacKenzie showed to those around her while she was alive.

Crowds of her friends, her fellow students, and of strangers — who came to care about MacKenzie after hearing about her disappearance and confirmed death — showed up to pay tribute. As a newly formed community, they shed tears together. They lit candles. They wrote notes. Many of them exchanged hugs.

And many expressed their gratitude to Salt Lake City police who worked the case so hard, setting aside their own feelings of sadness and grief to do their jobs.

“This is not what we wanted, but right now, we have some closure,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said at the gathering. “And right now, we are pushing very hard for justice for MacKenzie.”

Brown said he talked to some people close to the case prior to the service, but didn’t want to share the words exchanged.

“I’d rather not share them right now, but it was a lot of gratitude, it was tears,” he said.

“This is a very difficult time for everybody involved, and I will say that it’s difficult for our officers, too. They worked so hard, and they poured their heart into this investigation, so this is just tough for MacKenzie, her family, for the police department and our community.”

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MacKenzie’s family did not attend, Brown said. They are mourning in private.

Brown shared his pride in the job SLCPD employees did in the case.

“I just have to give the accolades back to the women and men of the police department, and when I say women and men, I’m talking about the officers, I’m talking about the detectives, the civilian analysts, the crime lab, the evidence — the entire team at the Salt Lake City Police Department deserves those accolades. They’ve worked so very hard over the last few weeks.”

And although MacKenzie’s fate is known and prosecutors are preparing their case, the investigation goes on.

“I wouldn’t say it’s closure,” Brown said. “I would say we’ve all come together tonight. Hopefully we are celebrating the love of MacKenzie, her life, but it’s far from over. We have a lot to do in the investigation, and that’s our commitment to the family and to the community, that we will continue with that effort, continue with that drive until we have justice for MacKenzie.”

And police officials will be processing their own emotional reactions as well.

“This is a tough, tough case,” Brown said. “We have professional help for our officers, but I think a lot of times our officers just compartmentalize the things they see, the things they do.

“I think the best healing for them is when they go home and they can put their arms around their loved ones and embrace them and hold on to them.”

Brown said he and officers who attended the vigil appreciated the gratitude expressed.

“It was very rewarding, nice to feel the love from the people at the vigil tonight, but again, I want to focus on MacKenzie, because that’s why we are here tonight, to celebrate her and show our support.”

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