For weeks, Carlos Aguilar made the 350-mile trip to Gainesville to continue the agonizing search for his missing son, Christian Aguilar, a University of Florida freshman.
But on Saturday, after the worrying and waiting, the father and family rushed to Levy County an hour outside of Gainesville. They came after the discovery of a body in the woods, likely that of Aguilar, the beloved teenager who united strangers in South Florida and Gainesville in a relentless but futile three-week search.
More than anything, Carlos Aguilar wanted to bring his son home.
Volunteers from across the state combed dense patches of woods, but it was 60 miles southwest of the campus town that hunters scouring for firewood discovered the body of a young man on a rural dirt road, with blue jeans and blue Van sneakers — clothing that matches the description of what Aguilar was wearing when he disappeared Sept. 20.
“Our prayers have been heard,’’ Carlos Aguilar said of his first born. “We as a family, we believe that Christian has been found but we will wait until the authorities confirm it… We are having the honor to take Christian back home and have his funeral.’’
Aguilar, a soft-spoken property manager who personally searched for his son since the day after he disappeared, told members of the media late Saturday — as supporters gathered for a candlelight vigil back home in Miami — that he wanted to express his gratitude to those who showed up for Christian.
“We want to thank every single person that supported our family during this horrible time, during this pain, during this agony,’’ he said, his voice unsteady as his wife, Claudia, sobbed by his side. “If it wasn’t for the prayers, for the support, for all those angels that came through …”
The two hunters, searching on the grounds of the Gulf Hammock Hunting Club near Cedar Key, noticed a horrible stench and stumbled onto a skull and decomposing body on Friday afternoon. They thought it was a dead deer and hurried over, thinking they’d remove the antlers. While it will take a few days to make an official identification, police are fairly certain it’s Aguilar.
Gainesville police, who are leading the investigation, are assisting the Levy County Sheriff’s Office in the forensic processing of the body. They do not expect an official confirmation before Tuesday.
“It looked like somebody tried to bury it, unsuccessfully,’’ Fred Oliver, a volunteer with the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, said Saturday. “They [the hunters] saw the skull, realized it was face down, and they realized it was not an animal.’’
The partially buried, partially decomposed body was left in an obscured area near Otter Creek, where the ground is particularly hard and tough to dig.
“I knew this was coming, but it’s still unexpected. This just makes everything real,’’ said Nicole Montero, a high school friend who had traveled to Gainesville twice to help with the search. “Christian brought together so many communities. This just breaks my heart.”
Now, the tedious task of piecing together the 18-year-old’s last hours begins. What is known is that he went out to Best Buy with Pedro Bravo, his high school friend from Doral Academy Preparatory, to buy a Kanye West CD.