For some time, the father of Christian Aguilar had contemplated how to mark his son’s 19th birthday Friday.
He wanted something small and quiet, an intimate moment for family to remember Christian as the firstborn full of promise rather than a body found by hunters in a shallow grave.
But Thursday, the family — which had grieved publicly and privately — was forced to relive the harrowing last chapter with this grim new detail: Christian Aguilar was poisoned and suffocated, authorities say.
“Everything just opened all back up,’’ said Carlos Aguilar, the impassioned father who led massive searches in Gainesville up until the week his son was found in mid-October. “We are trying to get through it, but how to do you get through it?”
Aguilar disappeared Sept. 20, last seen with Pedro Bravo — a friend, former Doral Academy Preparatory classmate and now murder suspect. Authorities now know Bravo did not beat Christian Aguilar as he told police in September before leaving him to die in the woods of Levy County. Instead, the 18-year-old Bravo poisoned and suffocated Aguilar using “a chemical compound with food and/or drink with the intent to kill or injure,” according to the newly amended seven-count grand jury indictment.
“We believe the evidence will show the administration of a chemical compound for the purpose of sedating [Aguilar] so he can do injury,’’ State Attorney Bill Cervone told the Gainesville Sun on Thursday. “Once we found the body, it gave us some new information, so we made some changes in the indictment.”
The new information left friends and family awash with emotions.
“It was already so hard to bury him,’’ said Alyssa D’Bazo, 18, friends with Aguilar since ninth grade. “The cause of death just leaves me with a negative image. I didn’t want to have to imagine his last moments.’’
Carlos Aguilar and his family arrived in Gainesville the day after Christian first went missing, making the 350-mile trip to search for the University of Florida freshman, who had arrived on the campus just weeks before with aspirations of becoming a biomedical engineer.
Within days, Bravo, a Santa Fe College student, was arrested. He gave police varying versions of a story that involved the two traveling to a Best Buy together, arguing over a girl, fighting and, finally, Bravo leaving Aguilar bleeding and barely breathing in a parking lot — a detail police were never able to confirm.
Police later found that Bravo had recently purchased a shovel and duct tape. And investigators discovered blood in Bravo’s SUV and Aguilar’s backpack hidden inside a suitcase in Bravo’s closet.
But Bravo’s narrative, however shaky, gave the family a whisper of hope, prompted a coordinated search of police, cadaver dogs and mounted units from across Florida and attracted national attention.
Hundreds of volunteers, many inspired by the father’s desperate public pleas, joined in to scour woods and brush and marshes and dirt paths, seeking any trace of Aguilar. It was a monumental three-week effort that united family, friends and strangers and the two communities where Aguilar had lived.
As Bravo sat in the Alachua County Jail charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping — at one point on a suicide watch — volunteers combed much of the city. But it was 60 miles southwest of the campus town near Cedar Key that hunters searching for firewood on Oct.12 discovered the partially decomposed remains of a young man. He was left in a rural, obscured area, partially buried.
Carlos Aguilar would later describe the discovery as a blessing in the sense that it allowed him to finally take his son home and give him a proper burial. Just two days before Christian was found, three candlelight vigils were held simultaneously in Gainesville, Miami and Cali, Colombia, the western town where his parents are originally from.
On Thursday, the indictment was broadened to include more counts: poisoning with food or water and tampering with physical evidence by concealing the shovel, duct tape and personal belongings and disposing of Aguilar’s body. Other counts include providing false information to law enforcement and improper transportation of a dead body.
Carlos Aguilar just hopes his son did not suffer.
“This has been a very difficult time for my family,’’ he said. “[Friday] will be even harder.’’