MIAMI (CBS4) – Two South Florida fathers have forged an unbreakable bond in the face of tragedy. Carlos Aguilar and Patrick Sessions are friends. Their paths crossed for the first time in the fall of last year when Aguilar’s son, Christian, disappeared in Gainesville.
“I know his pain and he knows mine,” Aguilar said.
For Aguilar, the pain is fresh and raw. But Patrick Sessions has lived with the heartache and uncertainty for more than two decades. His daughter Tiffany Sessions vanished from Gainesville in February 1989.
“If I can do anything to lower that pain for him, I would do it, with no doubt,” Aguilar said of his friend Sessions.
Aguilar buried his son more than four months ago. Sessions has never gotten that chance.
“If Tiffany turns up tomorrow, I think I can say to her with a straight face, ‘I tried,’” Sessions told CBS 4′s Lauren Pastrana during his first joint interview with Aguilar.
The parallels between their cases are uncanny to some.
Both Christian and Tiffany were University of Florida students when they disappeared. Sessions told her roommate she was going for a walk, but never returned.
Aguilar was last seen alive on surveillance video entering a Gainesville Best Buy store with his former Doral Academy classmate Pedro Bravo.
Patrick Sessions searched tireless for his daughter in Gainesville and the surrounding areas.
Almost 24 years later, he found himself there again, with a familiar mission. Sessions was there to look for Christian Aguilar.
“Going back to Gainesville, for the same reason, to go back to be part of a search,” Sessions explained. “It was almost eerie.”
The search for Aguilar began September 20th.
Through tears, his father told the me at the time, “We have to start thinking the worst.”
Carlos Aguilar and his family launched an exhaustive effort to find his son. The volunteers and donations poured in and before long, Sessions heard of the case.
“He asked us for permission to help,” Aguilar said. “He didn’t need it. I was looking for it and he came forward. He’s an amazing human being”
Sessions became a mentor to Aguilar. He provided guidance on searching, dealing with law enforcement, and harnessing the power of the media.
But Sessions will say the Aguilar’s didn’t need his help, because they already had each other.
“I’ve never seen such loyalty,” Sessions said with Aguilar by his side. “And the reason is because when you looked at that family, you saw the love that was there for their child.”
It took 22 days to find Christian’s body. At his funeral in October, Sessions was there despite his own heartache.
“The day that we were burying Christian, (Pat’s) mom passed away. But he decided to be at my son’s funeral and stay with me over there,” Aguilar said in awe of his new friend. “That tells you that somebody can give so much to another human being when they need it. I needed him at that funeral and he knew it.”
Much like Sessions was there for Aguilar, Christian’s father now wants to be a source of hope and help for others.
He’s launched the Christian Aguilar Search and Rescue Foundation to create a network of trained dogs ready to be dispatched to searches across the country.
The organization is already working to train two dogs.
“It costs a lot of money to maintain the dogs,” Aguilar explained.
But they are necessary. Aguilar said they had trouble getting dogs on site at first to help in the search for his son.
Sessions said he dealt with the same problem in 1989.
“Can you believe this? That 24 years later we’re still looking for dogs? The most basic thing in the world,” Sessions said. “It’s really kind of nuts.”
Aguilar has also said he’d like to spread the word about Tiffany’s case to people in the Hispanic community. He worries information may have been left unreported because the media coverage of the case in 1989 was predominantly in English.
He said it’s the least he can do for his friend Pat.
“It’s painful, and he’s going to learn that,” Sessions said about Aguilar. “I truly believe he’s going to be one of the guys that you’ll be talking to in ten years who has helped a lot of other families.”
For now, it’s Aguilar who needed the help. He is grateful Sessions was there to provide it.
“I have my closure thanks to a lot of people that helped me. But he was one that was special.”
Pedro Bravo is charged in the death of Christian Aguilar.
He has another court appearance next month.
To find out how to donate to the Christian Aguilar Search and Rescue Foundation, you can contact the family through the Facebook page set up in Christian’s honor.