The worst fears of Christian Aguilar’s family were finally and grimly confirmed Monday.
Gainesville Police announced that the remains found in a wooded stretch of Levy County are those of the missing 18-year-old University of Florida student from Miami-Dade who brought hundreds of people together to search for him.
Dental records were used to make the positive identification, police said. However, details of how he died were not released. Police said they would need further testing to determine that.
Carlos Aguilar said at a memorial service in Gainesville on Monday that he simply wanted to know where his son spent his final moment, “making sure that we understand what he went through and also . . . give honor to my son.”
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Meanwhile, Pedro Bravo, accused of killing Aguilar, remains in the Alachua County Jail, held without bail. A former high school friend of Aguilar’s, Bravo, 18, is charged with murder and kidnapping.
The two graduated earlier this year from Doral Academy Preparatory School. Aguilar enrolled at the University of Florida, hoping to study biomedical engineering. Bravo enrolled at Santa Fe College, intending on the same major.
Aguilar went missing on Sept. 20, after he was last seen at a Best Buy store with Bravo, a student at Santa Fe Community College. They had gone to buy Kanye West’s latest CD.
Bravo initially told police he beat Aguilar unconscious during a fight over a girl, who had once dated Bravo and later dated Aguilar. He said he pushed a bloodied Aguilar out of his SUV, leaving him bloody and barely breathing in a parking lot, miles away from Best Buy.
Police later determined Bravo lied.
The focus on Bravo intensified after police found blood in his SUV and Aguilar’s backpack hidden in the closet of his campus apartment. They also found a receipt showing Bravo had purchased a shovel and duct tape four days before Aguilar’s disappearance.
His family hired a lawyer and the teen would say no more of his former friend’s whereabouts, even as Aguilar’s mother begged Bravo in court for help in finding their son.
Even without a body, authorities felt they had strong enough evidence against Bravo and on Sept. 28 charged him in Aguilar’s death. He was already in custody, originally arrested on Sept. 24 for failure to get medical aid for Aguilar after the beating.
Carlos Aguilar made daily passionate pleas to the public to help find his son. The parents had initially hoped to find the teen disoriented, beaten and needing medical aid — or even held hostage.
In response, dozens of Aguilar’s friends and former classmates from Doral Academy Preparatory School in West Miami-Dade traveled on buses to Gainesville to join in the search, handing out fliers and holding vigils. Strangers from around the state also joined in.
For weeks, hundreds of law enforcement agencies and volunteers, along with dozens of blood hounds, cadaver dogs and mounted units combed a 10-square-mile area, trudging through woods, wetland and along roadways in south and west Gainesville.
One day, more than 300 volunteers — including Florida Gov. Rick Scott — came to the staging area in the southern section of the city to help with the search. They came from as far as Miami and Tampa and St. Augustine.
Eventually, however, the family accepted the fact that their first-born son had probably died.
Christian Aguilar’s partially buried body was found this past weekend by two hunters in woods off of State Road 24, in Levy County.
It was found on the ground of a private hunting club, near Cedar Key, more than an hour away from Gainesville.
A volunteer with the Levy Sheriff’s Office said it looked like someone had tried to bury the body but couldn’t because of the tough ground.
After murder charges were announced against Bravo, a tearful Carlos Aguilar said his family realized what the charges meant: “That moment destroyed my family,” he said, tearfully. “They broke and are still broken.”
The bad blood between the two teens surfaced when Aguilar began dating Bravo’s ex-girlfriend, also a student at Santa Fe College.
About 100 people attended a memorial service for Christian in Gainesville Monday night
Among them were UF President Bernie Machen and Christian’s parents, Carlos and Claudia Aguilar.
“We grieved with you when Christian first went missing. We walked with you in the woods,” Machen said, later adding, “And now our hearts are with you.”
Machen handed the parents a letter from Scott, expressing the governor’s condolences.
“Finding Christian was a miracle, a miracle that was answered by the prayers of this community,” Carlos Aguilar told those gathered at the church. The parents wore Gators T-shirts, his gray, hers orange.
“We came away with two shirts that said we are a Gator dad and a Gator mom because that’s what Christian wanted for us,” Carlos Aguilar said.
Freelancer Meredith Rutland in Gainesville and Miami Herald news partner WFOR CBS4 contributed to this report