The images portrayed a short but vigorous life.
A smiling Christian Aguilar as a baby, being baptized, playing soccer as a toddler, and in his blue-and-yellow high school graduation cap and gown. Another photo captured Aguilar “Tebowing” as a student at the University of Florida, Tim Tebow’s alma mater, and the final chapter in Aguilar’s life.
“Do it for them. Live up to your full potential,” read a projection screen featuring the images of Aguilar’s 18 years on earth.
Family, friends and dozens of others touched by the disappearance and subsequent murder of the UF student filled St. Dominic Catholic Church Tuesday to bid a final farewell to a young man whose death devastated a family and brought together a community.
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Mourners milled about in the sun while waiting to be let into the church. Inside, Aguilar’s family shared a private moment in the dark sanctuary. They arrived about a half-hour before the Mass escorted by Sweetwater police, along with Aguilar’s casket.
When the crowd trickled in, Frank Sinatra’s My Way graced the photo montage entitled, “The Best of Christian Aguilar.”
Before taking their seats, dozens lined up to hug the teen’s father, Carlos Aguilar, who spent weeks searching the woods of Gainesville for his son. “ Muchas gracias” was the common formality expressed. One mourner handed Carlos a yellow-ribboned bouquet of flowers, which he held throughout the Mass, seated in the front row next to his son’s casket.
Among those in suits and formal wear were people with “Help Find Chris” T-shirts and red sweaters from Doral Academy Preparatory School, Aguilar’s alma mater. Sweetwater police Cmdr. Mario Miranda, in full uniform, also attended.
Church songs included “ Tu Vas Conmigo” (You’re Going With Me), playing as Aguilar’s family and friends addressed the crowd, including younger brother Alexander.
“Everyone who knew him, knew he was a beautiful person, he was very happy,” he said. “And that is how I would like you to remember him, not for everything that has happened.”
Aguilar, who was studying at UF to become a biomedical engineer, was last seen Sept. 20, when he went to a Gainesville Best Buy with Pedro Bravo, an 18-year-old friend from Doral Academy enrolled at Santa Fe College.
Arrested four days later, Bravo told police he beat Aguilar and left him bleeding in a parking lot.
Hunters found Aguilar’s remains Oct. 12 in rural Levy County. Bravo has been charged with first-degree murder.
Miami Dade College student Alexander Beregovoy, 18, knew Aguilar as a sixth-grader at Doral Academy Middle. He jokingly remembered betting Aguilar a million dollars that we would be famous before him.
“He was the guy who could do anything,’’ he said. His death “is totally unfair.”
After the Mass, Aguilar’s brother Alexander, teary and red-eyed, and his grandfather Carlos Aguilar Sr., helped carry the casket out of the church. Before heading to the burial at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery in Doral, a church member gave Aguilar’s father a blessing while Alexander opened a gift. It was the book, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, by Mitch Albom.
“I was surprised how strong he has been,” said Jeanette Garcia, who works with Aguilar’s father. She said she has watched him gather strength from his faith.
The grandfather, Carlos Sr., addressed the media briefly, and perhaps Bravo indirectly.
“My final message is that there be peace, that there is forgiveness,” he said in Spanish. “We’re not judges.”