Gainesville police investigating the disappearance of University of Florida student Christian Aguilar say they cannot account for the whereabouts of their prime suspect, Pedro Bravo, for a 17-hour period, and they are now asking the public for help in tracking Bravo’s movements.
Police on Friday said they are seeking any witnesses who may have seen Bravo or his SUV, a blue two-door 2004 Chevy Blazer, between 3 p.m. Sept. 21 and 8 a.m. Sept. 22. Bravo was last seen with Aguilar, his high-school classmate, at 3 p.m. Sept 21 at a Best Buy store on Archer Road, southwest of the university, shopping for a CD.
Police and volunteers have now been searching the wooded areas around Gainesville for Aguilar, an 18-year-old from West Miami-Dade, for eight days. But police said they may now expand the scope of their search, given the lengthy time period for which they cannot account for Bravo’s whereabouts.
Police also have released new photos of Bravo’s truck, showing different tires on the vehicle’s passenger side. Investigators hope the odd tires may have drawn notice from witnesses.
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“This is a plea for the public to help us. We are hoping the pictures will refresh someone’s memory,” said Officer Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department. “We are asking residents and business owners, particularly those with surveillance. The smallest detail can help crack this case.”
Bravo, also 18, told police that he severely beat Aguilar on the night of Sept. 20 and left Aguilar outside a motorsports shop in northwest Gainesville. Police searched that area and found no evidence of Aguilar.
The day after Aguilar’s disappearance, Bravo, a student at Gainesville’s Santa Fe College, was questioned by police until he made suicidal comments; he was then admitted to a mental health facility.
Bravo — who attended Doral Academy Preparatory School in West Miami-Dade with Aguilar — was later charged with a felony count of depriving a crime victim of medical care, and he is now in the Alachua County Jail. Police have not spoken to Bravo since last Friday, and they have asked Bravo’s lawyers for permission to speak with him again, Tobias said.
In addition to the mismatched tires, Bravo’s truck also has front-end damage — the result, Bravo told police, of a collision a few weeks before Aguilar’s disappearance, Tobias said.
“He said he was riding on some back roads with friends and hit a tree. They changed the tire, and he said he wrecked the car a second time, damaging the spare tire,” Tobias said.
Bravo’s roommate, Erik Skipper, told The Miami Herald that he helped Bravo change the tires on his truck on Sept. 17, three days before Aguilar vanished.
Skipper said he believed Bravo came back to the apartment sometime between 4 and 8 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, because Bravo left a message on the refrigerator. But Bravo was gone by 8 a.m. and never returned.
Search crews continued looking for Aguilar on Friday, retracing a 10-square-mile area northwest of the city and checking new areas based on tips.
Aguilar’s father, Carlos, said he is still trying to persuade Bravo’s parents to return to Gainesville, to see if they can get their son to provide more information about Aguilar’s whereabouts.
“We are not stopping,” the father said Friday. “I am still hoping that my son is being held by someone, but I have to admit, yesterday was my most painful night. I broke down. It’s just so frustrating, because there are so many questions and not enough answers.”