Eighteen-year-old University of Florida student Christian Aguilar went missing on September 20. His frantic parents, Carlos and Claudia Aguilar, came to the college campus in Gainesville to search for their son. They held daily press conferences and begged for help. They handed out flyers. They organized vigils. Hundreds of law enforcement professionals, as well as volunteers from every background, were prompted to join in the effort.
The prognosis seemed grim. Another boy, Pedro Bravo, who had known Aguilar from high school in Miami, disclosed some very disturbing information. Bravo confessed to having had a fight with Aguilar. He said he beat his friend unconscious and dumped him out of his car.
Hopes for finding Aguilar dimmed as the weeks went by. The area Bravo had shown authorities yielded no sign of the missing young man. Police found blood in Bravo’s car and backpack. They found a receipt for the purchase of a shovel and duct tape. As time passed, the parents who originally had hoped to find their son now sadly realized that he probably had died.
It was quite possible that Aguilar’s body would never be found. There would be no burial, no accounting, no chance of any type of closure. The thought was excruciating.
Last week Christian Aguilar’s body was found in a private hunting club more than an hour away from the vicinity of the search. Identification was confirmed by dental records. Carlos called the find a “miracle.” He said the discovery would “give honor” to his son. Carlos and Claudia Aguilar could now bury their child and hopefully find some comfort and solace in this horrific tragedy.
There is something very poignant about the societal norm of burial and the marking of a gravesite. A human being who lived on this earth deserves to be interred with a certain dignity. Those who remain behind benefit from having a place to mourn and mark the final resting place of a departed loved one.
One of the most heartrending aspects of the Shoah is the fact that the mass graves and ashes of the crematoria have disallowed this basic human need. The Nazis tossed out the slaughtered victims as garbage. It was their final dehumanizing action.
Jewish tradition deals with the importance of burial in the Tanach. The cave of Machpeilah, purchased to bury our matriarch Sarah and the grave purchased to bury our matriarch Rachel are important parts of our history. The final act of chesed Hashem performed in the Torah was the burial of Moses. The lessons, of course, are for all time.
The Aguilar family will be able to bury their son and know where he lies. They will be able to visit his grave, grieve and process the tragedy. The survivors of the six million were deprived of this opportunity. This is a reason why the Jewish world is dedicated to building Holocaust museums and shrines.