SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A man whose home was searched as police investigate the disappearance of a Utah college student was named a “person of interest” in the case Thursday, and police were trying to find a mattress that had been inside his home.
The announcement came shortly after authorities spent about 19 hours searching the man’s home in a middle class Salt Lake City neighborhood. Neighbors described officers entering the home with shovels and police dogs. Investigators were also seen taking large brown bags out of the house.
Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said the homeowner spoke with investigators but was not in custody and declined to name him. But authorities said they believe the house has an unspecified connection to the disappearance of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck.
Online court and property records identify the man as 31, divorced this year and with no criminal record in Utah. The Associated Press is not naming him because authorities have not done so.
Investigators want to find a mattress and box spring they say the homeowner gave away last week, and speak with whoever took it, Brown said.
Lueck disappeared June 17 after taking a Lyft from the city’s airport to a park, where police said she met someone at about 3 a.m. They have said the Lyft driver had no connection with her disappearance.
The home that police searched Wednesday into Thursday is about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the park.
Brown would not say if the homeowner met Lueck at the park, or if police have identified the person she met there.
Police generally use the term “person of interest” for someone they believe might have information about a crime that leads to a suspect, or may be eventually become a suspect.
The homeowner has lived there about two years and has rented out part of it on Airbnb, said next-door neighbor Tom Camomile. Before he moved there, he lived briefly in an apartment and did coding work from home, said roommate Zach Slater, who lived with him in 2015. He remembered him as a quiet, nice roommate who dated a number of women.
Camomile said the man was friendly and that the two discussed landscaping improvements he made shortly after moving in, but said the neighbor became withdrawn over the last several months. He said the man in recent months stopped keeping up his yard as well as he had before.
Camomile said he never saw anyone matching Lueck’s description at the house and last saw the homeowner last Saturday bring in his trash cans.
Lueck is a part-time student at the University of Utah in her senior year majoring in kinesiology and pre-nursing. She has been a student since 2014 and has an off-campus apartment.
She is from El Segundo in the Los Angeles area and flew to California for a funeral before returning to Salt Lake City, police said. Her family reported her missing on June 20 and became more concerned after she missed a planned flight back to Los Angeles last weekend.
The police chief told reporters he has spoken with her father, Greg Lueck, and felt “the heartache and the pain and the suffering in his voice as we spoke.”
Investigators are tracking Lueck’s activity on social media and whether she had another phone as they look for clues about who she met at the park. They are also looking into her romantic life, including whether she dated older men, though it’s unclear whether that might have any connection to her disappearance, said police spokesman Greg Wilking.
“This is a digital forensic investigation,” Brown said. “This is very complicated and it has a digital footprint that our investigators have been following.”
Lueck’s close friend, Ashley Fine, uploaded a new video Thursday onto the “Find Mackenzie Lueck” Facebook page. She pleaded with people to call police with any information.
“Everyone around the country is looking for you. We’re advocating for you, we’re fighting for you, and we’re going to bring you home safely,” Fine said.
Another friend, Kennedy Stoner, said she was frustrated with speculation on social media suggesting Lueck was reckless, saying her behavior the night she disappeared was “totally out of character.”
Lueck is “motherly and nurturing,” Stoner said.”She’s a genuine person who tries to make everyone feel appreciated and loved.”
Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Morgan Smith in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.