A group of South Florida law enforcement officers and students traveled to Gainesville Thursday to assist in the case of missing University of Florida teen Christian Aguilar in what police are calling the largest search to date — while the family hopes to meet with suspect Pedro Bravo’s parents.
“I have spoken with the parents and hoping they return today. I have been talking to them and trying to pressure them to come back and talk to Pedro,” Carlos Aguilar said Thursday morning. “They said they are going to come here so we can have a face to face and confront Pedro and see if he will talk. There is still key information we don’t know.”
At least 200 officers, including some from South Florida, are retracing both rural and commercial stretches in Gainesville.
“Today what you are seeing is a culmination of all our resources. We have officers, mounted units, bloodhounds, cadaver and tracking canines,” said Gainesville Police spokesman Ben Tobias. “We are still treating this as a live search until we find definitive evidence of otherwise.”
Aguilar said he arrived at the Alachua County Fairgrounds at 7 a.m. Thursday to meet volunteers already assembled to join the search.
“We have a search that is now triple in size. I have been assured by the chief of police in Gainesville and the city manager that they are supporting us,” he said. "We are not giving up and until the police tell is something different, we will continue to be a part of Gainesville.”
Among the local police helping in the case: Miami-Dade Police, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Doral Police, Miramar Fire Rescue, Sweetwater police, Medley police and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department. Broward Sheriff’s Office sent a bloodhound and trainer at the request of the Gainesville Police Department.
At about 6 a.m., a bus carrying 30 students from Doral Academy — where both Bravo and Christian Aguilar graduated and Aguilar’s younger brother attends — arrived. They will hand out fliers on campus and go out on searches. The group also plans to return on the weekend.
“We are here to support Alex and his family. He is our classmate and friend,” said Valeska Pella, 16. “We just don’t want to lose hope.”
The Doral Police Department sent six officers, including a lieutenant and sergeant, along with two canines and two ATVs. Doral police also transported specialized equipment and are working with Medley in deploying thermal imaging equipment, said Police Chief Rick Gomez. “We offered because there appeared to be a need, and we wanted to give the missing person the best chance for recovery,” he said.
Sweetwater’s Mayor Manuel Maroño and Chief of Police Roberto Fulgueira, both experienced hunters, were so moved on Monday after seeing the senior Aguilar on television pleading for help to find his son the two arrived in Gainesville early Tuesday morning.
The two “are familiar with that type of terrain and the mayor has sons close to those boys’ age and he was moved,” said Sweetwater spokeswoman Michelle Hammontree. The department also sent a bloodhound and five police officers.
Hammontree said that the mayor and chief believe that the suspect has given inaccurate information and hope that someone who knows either Aguilar or Bravo might have some tips that can help with the investigation since the search has proven fruitless despite the large number of personnel on the grounds.
“They have the feeling he’s not being honest or they would have found something,” Hammontree said.
The Aguilar family has requested that if anyone has information that can help find Christian they should call 352-393-7670.
Miami Herald staff writer Howard Cohen contributed to this report.