Alex Aguilar still remembers how his older brother Christian’s eyes gleamed when he first toured UF in April 2012.
It was the first glimpse of his home for the next four years.
“It was like a kid in a candy shop,” Alex said. “He was completely entranced with this place.”
Despite their two-and-a-half year age gap, they started planning their future at UF. A circle of friends, hobbies, long car rides. The college experience, together.
But that tour was the first and last day the brothers had at UF.
Christian’s time at UF was cut short when he went missing Fall semester of his freshman year on Sept. 20, 2012, according to Alligator archives. The 18-year-old UF biomedical engineering student’s disappearance launched a nearly month-long search, which ended when hunters in Levy County discovered Christian’s remains, according to Alligator archives.
Almost two years after Christian’s disappearance, his friend, Pedro Bravo, was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Christian and sentenced to life in prison, according to Alligator archives. The state believed the murder was driven by Bravo’s jealousy of Christian, who had begun dating Bravo’s ex-girlfriend.
Alex said after a week of searching, his hope to find Christian alive had faded, but it didn’t make the news that his brother’s remains had been discovered any less devastating.
“It was very emotional,” Alex said.
Six years after his brother’s murder, Alex, a 21-year-old UF animal science senior, will find himself reaching a milestone in May he had always pictured Christian achieving first: walking across the stage at UF’s commencement.
Growing up, Alex saw Christian as a template to follow, he said. Watching his older brother excel in school, live selflessly and become independent became a roadmap for how Alex wanted to live his life.
“It’s kind of a mix of ‘I want to do this for myself,’ but in a way, I’m always motivated by him, and I want to finish out what he started,” he said.
Although Christian fell in love with UF the minute he set foot on campus, Alex didn’t always have his heart set on attending the university. He thinks the academics and overall appeal of the UF atmosphere prompted him to choose it in the end, but he knows part of it was the desire to carry on Christian’s legacy.
“If he were here, he’d definitely be saying that he was the reason I came here,” he said.
Despite different personalities, the brothers were bonded together by their education, said their father Carlos Aguilar. They both enrolled in challenging courses at Doral Academy Preparatory School to boost their GPA and excelled in their classes.
“Alexander was always competing, in a nice way, with Christian,” he said.
Their friendly competition and Christian’s position as a role model often pushed Alex to succeed, Carlos said.
“Christian was his model,” he said. “Christian was the person that he wanted to gain his respect and his admiration.”
Alyssa D’Bazo, 23, remembers the way Alex would stick around Christian in high school. D’Bazo, now a second-year student at the University of Miami School of Law, met Christian during their freshman year of high school. She remembers him as an introverted, funny and empathetic friend.
He would do anything for the people he cared about, D’Bazo said, including staying on the phone with her at night, five hours at a time, she said.
“I admired that about him,” she said. “I always told him I was very impressed with how much he put up with me.”
Over the past few years, D’Bazo has seen some of Christian’s characteristics in Alex, like his sense of humor. She said Alex is one of the funniest people she’s ever met.
“You see these little glimpses, and it’s been really comforting,” she said.
After using his brother as a guide for so many years, Alex said adjusting to life without him was difficult. He was lost for a while without the footsteps of his older brother to follow. He said he relies on memories of his brother to fulfill his legacy.
“If there was, like, anything that I learned from him, it’s that if you stay focused and just work hard on something it’s going to be pretty possible to achieve,” he said.
Enduring the tragedy of his brother’s death gave Alex a maturity that most of his peers don’t have, Carlos said. While he’s happy to see his son maturing, he sometimes wishes the circumstances were different.
“He’s very mature, grown-up, he knows what he wants,” Carlos said. “Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes it’s sad for us that he didn’t enjoy a few things that he normally would do with his brother.”
From football games to animal research opportunities, throughout his four years at UF, Alex wonders what his brother would do and has tried to experience everything his college experience has to offer.
“(Christian) just wanted to see different things and experience different things on his own and that’s something I definitely took to heart,” he said.
Alex never let an experience slip through his fingers, said his friend Joseph Borrell. While at UF, Alex dove headfirst into animal research. When one opportunity ended, he simply began his search for another, Borrell said.
“He always put himself out there,” he said. “He’s really hard working.”
Alex is looking ahead to the next chapter of his life after graduation. He wants to pursue a career in veterinary medicine and recently found out he was accepted to veterinary school in London, England.
Carlos said he couldn’t be more proud of both Alex and Christian. He never doubted for a moment his sons would be successful and caring people. Alex’s upcoming graduation from UF not only honors his brother’s memory but also makes a meaningful name for himself, Carlos said.
“God gave me two precious gifts,” he said. “We still miss Christian, but we know that Alexander is another precious gift that is just becoming more precious everytime that he grows.”