UF student Aguilar remembered at memorial

Published: Monday, October 15, 2012 at 10:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, October 15, 2012 at 10:59 p.m.

After nearly a month of combing miles and miles of woods and vacant lots for evidence, friends and family of Christian Aguilar have finally stopped searching.

The remains of Aguilar's body, found half buried last Friday on hunting lands near Cedar Key, were positively identified on Monday afternoon. Gainesville police said 18-year-old Aguilar's dental records confirmed the match.

The father of the University of Florida biomedical engineering student who had been missing since Sept. 20 called the discovery of his son's body a miracle.

“All our prayers were answered and yes, in fact, I found my son when the possibilities were minimal,” he said before a memorial ceremony held at St. Augustine Church and Catholic Student Center on Monday night for his son.

His father said the ceremony was a gesture of gratitude to the many volunteers who came out to help with the search.

“I highly respect these people,” he said.

The event was organized by the Catholic Gators, the St. Augustine Church, UF's Division of Student Affairs and other student groups.

More than 200 people gathered for the ceremony, some carrying backpacks over black funeral clothes.

But not everyone could make it. Sebastian Arias, Aquilar's friend of eight years, was working in Miami on the night of the ceremony.

Arias said he is not ready to accept that he will never be able to call his friend on the phone or hang out with him when he comes home to Miami.

“I would still be searching for him if I could,” Arias said. “I'd rather be doing that than coming to the realization that my best friend is dead and not being able to do anything about it.”

Pedro Bravo, 18, remains in Alachua County jail on a murder indictment after authorities uncovered evidence, including a statement from Bravo, that he beat Aguilar until he was unconscious. Bravo was charged with first-degree murder before Aguilar's body was discovered.

At St. Augustine Church, one church member in a long draping, white robe, paved the way for the memorial ceremony by sweeping a sweet-smelling incense through the center of the room. The incense lifted up to the blue vaulted ceilings of the church.

A grand piano, violins, guitars and the voices of young musicians rose together in songs of hope and adoration.

“He has risen from the dead,” they sang. “Come and rise up from the grave.”

The University of Florida held a strong presence in the Catholic ceremony. President Bernie Machen, Vice President of Student Affairs Dave Kratzer, Dean of the College of Engineering Cammy Abernathy and representative from student government Juan Rodriguez each expressed appreciation for Aguilar's character and impact on the UF community.

“We agonized with you after Christian first went missing, we walked with you in the woods and along the roads during these long and painful weeks, and tonight our hearts join with yours as we remember and we mourn your Christian,” Machen told Aguilar's family.

Abernathy said that although she did not know Aguilar personally, she believes she understands the substance of his character: high intelligence, dedication and a strong heart.

Rodriguez said the UF community was proud to that Aguilar was a Gator. He said others should learn from the tragedy of his death.

“His life serves as a lesson for all of us here at the University of Florida, as a lesson that we have to value our life, value the opportunities given to us and help those who are in need,” Rodriguez said.

Claudia Aguilar clung tightly to her husband as he individually thanked a long list of people who dedicated time and effort to search for their son. He talked of one woman who hurt her ankle while trekking through the woods, but continued with the search despite her injury.

Lit candles were shared from one person to the next in a “ceremony of light.” The church was darkened and then slowly relit as the flame from candles were passed from one person to the next, gradually making its way to the darkest corners of the building.

One pastor of the church said the light was a symbol of hope in a world that is often dark and brutish.

“Tonight, here, in this place, a light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it,” he said.

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