A group of Sweetwater Police officers were up before dawn Tuesday to make their way to Gainesville to join in the search efforts for missing University of Florida freshman Christian Aguilar.
Around a dozen officers and Sweetwater Mayor Manny Marono loaded trucks up with ATVs and other equipment and headed north to share in the massive search for the 18-year-old from South Florida who was last seen Sept. 20.
Marono and some of the officers have already participated in the search, and many are donating their personal time, Marono said.
"The first time we went, we went the first day this happened, the first couple days this happened," Marono said. "The police officers volunteered their time. Most of them are fathers, if not fathers they're brothers, if not they're uncles."
The group left from City Hall around 4 a.m. Tuesday. Sweetwater Police Chief Robert Fulgueira said he's not sure when they'll return, but the group is holding out hope Aguilar will be found safe.
"The father has hope, we're hoping that he's alive, he could be," Fulgueira said. "The environment is rough out there and I don't know, I don't know that he has survived, but one way or another we need to find that boy so that father can have some sort of closure."
Although Christian Aguilar's body hasn't been found, Gainesville Police on Friday announced they were charging his friend and former classmate, Pedro Bravo, with murder in the disappearance.
Aguilar was last seen with Bravo at a Gainesville Best Buy. Police initially charged Bravo, also 18, with depriving a crime victim of medical care, but the murder charge was added after police say they found blood in Bravo's SUV and found Aguilar's backpack hidden inside a suitcase in Bravo's closet.
The blood found in the vehicle is being compared with DNA samples from Aguilar, police said.
Last Wednesday, Gainesville Police said Bravo bought a shovel and roll of duct tape "several days" before the disappearance.
Police said Bravo changed his story after being confronted with evidence but hasn't been cooperative with detectives. He's being held without bond and his attorney said Saturday that the case was far from over.
“We’ve told you this before. Since the day the police first questioned him, they had him for somewhere between 8 to 12 hours," attorney Ron Kozlowski said. "They talked to him, they interrogated him, he drove them around town, he showed them what he said he knew."
Family, friends and several law enforcement agencies have spent the past 11 days looking for the Doral Academy Preparatory High School grad. His father, Carlos Aguilar, said Monday that he wouldn't give up the search.
“We need his body to be found to create a solid case and make sure Pedro never walks outside of a jail cell," he said.
"Everybody's motivated to help this father and try to bring closure to this family and bring closure to South Florida," Marono said. "I think we all need closure."
Anyone wishing to donate cash, snacks, rubber boots or machetes for the search efforts can drop them off at Sweetwater City Hall, at 500 Southwest 109th Place, on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
A service in memory of Aguilar will be held Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Prince of Peace Catholic Church at 12800 NW 6th St. in Miami, the church said Monday.