For two weeks, Carlos Aguilar made desperate pleas to the public to come to Gainesville to help find his 18-year-old missing son.
Hundreds answered the call, traveling from different corners of Florida, some from out of state. The volunteers scoured miles of terrain and bushy undergrowth in Gainesville, where University of Florida freshman Christian Aguilar was last seen alive.
As of Thursday, Aguilar, who graduated from Doral Academy Preparatory School in West Miami-Dade, remained missing. But the massive volunteer coordination effort will soon end.
Gainesville police have said that as of 5 p.m. Friday, they will no longer be coordinating the volunteer effort to find Aguilar, who is presumed dead.
Investigators will continue the search, but emphasized they want any evidence found at this late date to be handled only by law enforcement.
For those who dropped everything to find Aguilar, the news served as another grim reminder that the 18-year-old still had not been found, despite their best efforts.
Aguilar’s high school friend, Pedro Bravo — charged with first-degree murder in Aguilar’s disappearance and presumed death — is being held at the Alachua County Jail without bail.
“What are we supposed to do now?” asked Nicole Montero, who graduated from Doral Academy with Aguilar and had gone twice from Miami to Gainesville to search.
“Now we feel really helpless,” Montero, 18, added. “We can’t do anything else. Now it feels kind of like it’s really over.”
But Gainesville police say it’s not over. Investigators want those trained in search and recovery to continue to look at specific areas based on leads from the police’s Criminal Investigations Bureau.
Police spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said there is “a mountain of data” that investigators are sifting through.
“Anything that is found at this point of the investigation will be considered evidence — and we can’t risk the integrity of that evidence being handled by anyone but law enforcement,” Tobias said in a statement.
When the search began, police had to cover a wide swath and the best way to do that was with “area and grid” searches, Tobias said. As of Thursday, most of those areas had been covered.
“The search areas are becoming more limited and exact,” he said.
Investigators are still following leads, including those given by nearly a half-dozen psychics.
But they have not found Aguilar.
Alyssa D’Bazo graduated from Doral Academy with Aguilar and Bravo. Though she was studying at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, she made the trip to Gainesville to help with the search.
She returned to Orlando Sunday but kept following the news for updates. She heard about the closing down of the volunteer post online Thursday evening.
“I guess that’s appropriate,” she said, “but I still want to help.”
But as each day passed, without word of Aguilar being found, staying hopeful got harder.
“We just want to find him in any sense because his family sure does need closure,’’ she said. “We’re just hoping to find Christian and see what happens with Pedro.”
Bravo and Aguilar, both 18, had been friends back when they both graduated from Doral Academy. After graduation, Aguilar enrolled in the University of Florida and planned to study biomedical engineering. Bravo enrolled in Santa Fe College, and also intended to study biomedical engineering.
But when Aguilar began dating Bravo’s ex-girlfriend, who also lived in Gainesville and was studying at Santa Fe, the two had a falling out.
They seemed to reunite Sept. 20, at least according to evidence gathered by police. Aguilar and Bravo were caught on surveillance tape entering a Best Buy store in Gainesville.
Aguilar has not been seen since.
Bravo later told police he beat Aguilar and left him bloody and barely breathing in a parking lot.
Police found blood in multiple spots in Bravo’s SUV, and Aguilar’s backpack hidden in the closet of his apartment.
To report tips related to the Aguilar case, call 352-393-7670.
Miami Herald staff writer Ina Paiva Cordle contributed to this report.