After about a month of unanswered questions, miles of searching and holding onto hope, the Aguilar family may have the closure it prayed for.
On Saturday, Carlos Aguilar and his wife, Claudia Aguilar, addressed reporters inside the University Police department about investigators’ recent discovery: a body found in Levy County that may be the couple’s missing son, Christian Aguilar.
Carlos Aguilar’s wife cried on his arm as he thanked volunteers and supporters for their help in the search.
“We, as a family, believe that Christian has been found and our prayers have been heard,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, Gainesville Police responded to a call from the Levy County Sheriff’s Office about human remains found inside the Gulf Hammock Hunting Club, a 25,000-acre wooded area about 40 miles southwest of Gainesville.
Two hunters looking for firewood found a partially buried body after smelling what they thought was a dead deer. The body, found near a dirt road, had blue Vans sneakers, blue jeans and duct tape, according to published reports.
The jeans and sneakers match the same clothes Christian Aguilar, 18, wore in a Best Buy surveillance photo, released by GPD, taken the day he went missing, the reports stated. Police have not confirmed the body to be Aguilar.
Volunteers temporarily suspended Saturday’s search when the family heard of the body’s discovery.
Investigators are performing an autopsy and will release their findings, including the body’s identification, this week.
The Aguilar family said it planned to stay in Gainesville until the body is identified.
“Our family is going to be grieving until the authorities give us the confirmation,” Carlos Aguilar, 45, said. “At that moment, we’re going to have the honor of taking Christian back home.”
On Saturday, Levy County deputy sheriffs blocked off dirt roads leading into the woods along State Road 24, as police combed through the area to gather more evidence.
Jeff Baxman, a 60-year-old truck driver, lives several miles away from where the body was found.
The dozens of police officers driving into the woods, including a forensics team, surprised Baxman on his way home from Miami Friday night.
“This doesn’t happen out here a lot,” he said.
The search for Christian Aguilar began 25 days ago, when he was reported missing.
The Aguilars drove almost 350 miles from Miami to look for their son, combing through swamps and woods throughout Gainesville.
However, they did not look alone.
Supporters from Miami, Gainesville and across the state assisted the Aguilars and GPD in the search.
As days turned to weeks, and Christian Aguilar remained missing, police turned the search into a recovery mission.
Kathy Tamargo was one of the dozens of UF students who volunteered with police.
The 20-year-old political science senior said she searched along Southwest 13th Street Oct. 7 for clues.
“If it was your brother, you’d want people helping out, too,” she said.
During the investigation, police named Pedro Bravo the main suspect in Aguilar’s disappearance.
Bravo, an 18-year-old Santa Fe College student and Aguilar’s former friend, told GPD detectives he beat Aguilar and left him lying on the ground.
In the past few weeks, police found several pieces of evidence: blood inside Bravo’s 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer, Aguilar’s backpack in Bravo’s closet and a receipt on Bravo’s dresser.
The receipt showed he had purchased a roll of duct tape and a shovel several days before Aguilar’s disappearance.
Bravo has been in Alachua County Jail since Sept. 24, where he remains in custody without bond.
On Oct. 8, an Alachua County grand jury indicted Bravo on kidnapping and first-degree murder charges.
Bravo’s next appearance in court will be his arraignment Oct. 24, where he will appear in front of a judge and make his plea in the case.
Although a body has been found, Ron Kozlowski, one of the attorneys representing Bravo and his family, said his team is still working on strategies for the defense.
If police confirm the body to be Aguilar, he said, the case can change.
“How it changes is really speculation,” he said. “We just don’t know enough.”
Contact Chris Alcantara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claudia Aguilar sobs on her husband, Carlos, as he addresses reporters during a news conference at the University Police Department on Saturday evening. What are possibly the remains of missing UF student Christian Aguilar were found Friday afternoon deep in the woods of a hunting reserve in Levy County.
A Levy County Sheriff’s Office car blocks the road leading to the Gulf Hammock Hunting Club on Friday afternoon where the confirmed remains of missing UF student Christian Aguilar were discovered.
Supporters of the Aguilar family painted a memorial to Christian Aguilar on the 34th Street Wall on Saturday afternoon.