tv Dateline MSNBC May 21, 2022 11:00pm-12:00am PDT
young woman who loved animals and enjoyed playing dress-up and who fatally married a stranger, till death he did part. i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. this is dateline. >> i'm here, in pain and so hurt, so sad. >> i would give anything for him to be here. >> they were new to college a newly in love, the whole world ahead of them. >> he grabs my chin and he pulls me up, and it gives me this magical case. >> their seeker romance will lead to something shattering
when christian vanished. >> oh got. my young life went out the window. >> it was tense, we were nervous, we were scared. >> i'm starting to believe that there might be more to this than just a missing person. >> where was he? did someone have something to hide? >> there was blood under the car. >> a lover triangle. a circle of friends. was one of them a killer? >> this was planned. this was on purpose. >> how could you do something so horrific? >> hello, welcome to dateline. highschoolers, erica freeman -- i like three peas in a pod. after graduation, they even picked colleges in the same city. then one of them went missing. when last seen in a dangerous
part of found. as the hours past, the mystery deepens, they uncovered a hidden truth, one they believe might be a motive for murder. here is denis murphy with "circle of friends." >> remember going away to college? maybe your first time away from home. there were new friends to be made. >> oh, god. the first kiss was amazing. >> i thought he was just depressed. you just didn't take it that seriously. maybe we should have. >> for three florida teenagers, the decision they made as they started campus life had terrible consequences. >> it all seemed surreal. we thought this can't possibly happen. >> the story of our three begins in a high school near miami. erica, pedro and christian were
inseparable. a trio of friends wrestling through adolescents at doral academy. >> i moved there in 2006 for sixth grade. >> it was a special place. >> one from people all over the world, which was interesting. they had a lot of opportunities academically you don't get at an average high school. >> erica was smart, and pretty. she caught the eye of a cute guy in class, pedro bravo. >> he was a big clown. a funny guy. >> disruptive, act out in class guy? >> not really act out in class but he'd act out as soon as class was over and it was just to get the class going or something like that. >> a rock solid student with an artistic flair. >> he could draw anything.
>> robert lopez was a friend and classmate. >> anything from graphic comics up to picture art? >> right. they were very gifted. >> erica and pedro quickly became an item. teenaged lovers with adult dreams. >> we became in a serious relationship. we were a little more mature than others. we didn't go out and drink. we were focused on each other. >> another good buddy. christian aguilar. >> i met him through pedro. he was fun and funny. we were instantly good friends. >> a soccer player who hit the books. the son of immigrants. plans to become a doctor.
>> it sounds like you have to know how academically motivated he was. >> he was very driven. it wasn't that his family was pushing him. he wanted to make them proud. >> these three all doubled at prom together and posed in this snap shot in the waning days of high school. >> did you do a limo? >> we did do a limo. we all showed up and took plenty of pictures. it was fun. >> graduation from high school was one of those big paths crossing in the wood. christian that he was intent on pre-med got admitted to university of florida, gainesville.
>> all three friends wanted to be gators, only christian got in. erica headed to a different college in gainesville, santa fe. >> erica broke it off with pedro. she didn't want a long distance relationship. after all, they were just 18 years old. the big wide world ahead of them. >> is i wanted him to find someone and fall in love. i just didn't think they were the one for me. >> they were barely unpacked. pedro didn't want to be left behind in miami after all. as the fall semester started, he showed up in gainesville as his friend robert remembered. >> he just visited and ended up signing the lease and enrolling for classes at santa fe college.
>> could the relationship be renewed. if that was the hope, it was dashed with some awful news on september 21, 2012. >> we were tense, we were nervous, we were scared. >> christian never showed up at his dorm that night. he never answered his phone. >> it is not like christian to not answer or disappear. there was something wrong. >> christian aguilar had vanished. >> coming up, what could be behind christian's sudden disappearance. retracing his last steps. >> he tells me at some point they stop and pick up a hitchhiker. >> when dateline continues.
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freshmen. one, christian was a no show. he didn't pick up the phone, not so much is a taxed. >> it got later and later, and i started calling our friends. i wanted to make sure, i've seen christian? >> when you're not getting a text back, when did you go to the worry to getting freaked? out >> honestly, all night. i couldn't sleep. i passed by his dorm room to see if, possibly, his phone
died and he couldn't answer. i was thinking all these different scenarios, and he wasn't in his dorm. where was he all night? where was he staying? where was he sleeping? where is he? >> the next morning, still nothing from question. he had a come back to his dorm room, so erica and pedro went to the gainesville police. ainesville police. i just wanted someone to pay attention. serious they. >> after all, christian wouldn't be the first college freshman to go off the grid for a bit. may be crashing at another door. but his friends were worried. the cops told them to go see if the campus police could help. >> the big thing i wanted to find out was had anybody been in contact with him. when was the last time. where was the last time anyone was in contact with him. >> officer twin talked to the
concerned pair. found out pedro was the last person to see him the previousday. >> he walked me through the day. once he meets christian. they go to the infirmary because christian had to get a flu shot and back to pedro's car. which is part of campus. at that point, they go to best buy. >> pretty routine until he said they did something impulsive. >> he told me they stopped to pick up a hitch hiker. >> they drove around town a bit. eventually the tracker said they want to get out of the car. shortly after, christian said he wanted to get out to. >> that's where the two parted. a few miles off and out of campus. that neighborhood around the body shop raised alarms for officer peck. it had rough spots. >> some of the area is a high drug era and had gang activity as well. that concerned me.
where they up there for that reason or in the process of christian getting dropped off, did he wonder into something. >> i knew there is a large homeless community in gainesville and there still is. i was concerned about that. if he was in the woods somewhere and stumbled into a campground of homeless people and they decided to do something to him. that's something i thought of. >> a gang area, homeless camps and a mysterious hitch hiker. there seemed to be reason enough to worry. >> erika called his parents and told them christian was missing. >> what did you think? >> i was worried. >> that wasn't like christian. >> along with his brother, they jumped in the car. that was the most silent car
ride i had ever had. we didn't talk. we didn't want to say to one another. >> what did that word missing mean to you? >> maybe trying to be positive. maybe he went to a party. maybe he got injured. we couldn't tell. we don't know who he hangs out with. >> when police arrived, police had questions for alex and his parents too. >> we come into a room, an officer asked a few questions. what type of person is christian. does he drink or do drugs? >> what were you seeing in his parents at this period? >> confused. pain. there is pain in their eyes >> they were all about to channel that pain into determination with more friends heading up from miami. >> i had a whole group of individuals who were now just as concerned and focused as i was to find christian. i didn't freely so alone. i felt we are going to find him. we can do this. >> christian's friends and family were hopeful.
>> for officer peck, the case of the missing student caught more wind. christian was trying to hide something. was his secret the key to finding him. >> there is something else going on here. would that identify him? i'm not sure. >> coming up. >> do you know christian? >> how do you know him. >> i was concerned i'd push him off the edge. when dateline continues. eline continues.
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police office. cameras were rolling. his team went to work tracing the missing student. his team quickly went to work, tracing the missing student with a technological tools. they picked his cell phone. checked the university computers. christian had not locked on. >> we checked with the local hospital and with out notes froo the previous night. check with the city and county to see if they had any contact with them. >> no sign of christian everywhere. >> you are still calling and texting? >> i'm sending messages saying we are going to find you.
i love you so much. everything is going to be okay. trying to calm myself down. >> it was in those hours erika disclosed a secret. her secret too. since high school graduation and break up with pedro, she and christian had become more than friends. >> it was very exciting. we thought it was great. we thought this is us learning to get used to gainesville. it was like i had my best friend with me. somebody i could always turn to. someone i always did turn to and now, somebody who would always be there for me. >> who made the move for the first embrace? >> he did. he drove to my house. i see him. we hugged. we are there, i was nervous. i had all these butterflies.
he grabs my chin and pulls me up and gives me this magical kiss. >> you became a couple that moment? >> oh, yeah. we were like, is this happening? i was like, god, this is crazy. i can't believe this. >> in a matter of weeks, their young lives had changed completely. they were madly, deeply in love. >> what do you think of who of you had? >> something very rare. something you don't find every day. something amazing. i don't even now how to explain what we had. it was like not a care in the world because you are so happy. young girls are in love sometimes of being in love. this doesn't sound like that. >> no, no. this is something really clicked on every level. >> out of respect, they kept the romance from pedro.
>> yet they knew something was eating away since graduation. >> did he change at all? >> yes, as time went on. he was a little more withdrawn. he was just starting to keep to himself a little more. >> he was kind of depressed. >> we all go through it. >> buddy robert lopez noticed some alarming behavior. >> we went to this restaurant. the swamp. well-known in gainesville. our tab ran up to $70. we picked up the whole tab. we asked him why. he said, i won't worry about it. i won't need this money soon. does that give you an insight into his head in the moment?
>> that's when we realized he was not doing okay. >> was pedro suicidal? all the more reason to keep their happy romance silence. >> i was concerned to push him off the edge. >> i didn't want him to go home thinking i'm dating one of our mutual friends. and him think, i'm gonna add my life right now. >> now the cat was out of the bag. >> at the police station that day, erica blurted it out. was pager right there in the room. >> do you know christian? >> yes. how do you know him? >> his girlfriend. >> she goes on to tell me her and christian started dating but they didn't think they knew. >> how would pedro react to hearing that. >> the officer sensed something that seemed to be brewing. what that was wasn't clear. >> for now, everybody was focused on finding christian. >> they were like we are all in this together.
he's our friend. we are trying to find out whatever we can to help locate him. >> officer peck could see erika was becoming increasingly agitated. as the campus cough was checking out the stories the two friends had told him, he decided it was time to bring in investigators from gainesville pd the first thing they could do was talk to pedro bravo. >> not to tell you one thing. >> okay. >> coming up, a dramatic new >>. >>. >>? >>. >> when dateline continues. when dateline continues oo! and i get seven days to love it or my money back... i love it! i thought online meant no one to help me, but susan from carvana had all the answers. she didn't try to upsell me. not once, because they're not salespeople!
of emergency in the region. a new york city -- first case of monkeypox virus. the president tested positive on friday. this comes days after the first u.s. case was identified in massachusetts. the world health organization has identified about 80 cases globally. now, back to dateline. now, back to dateline. , >> welcome back to dateline, i'm craig melvin. where was christian aguilar? pressure bravo told campus police, he left his friend in the sketchy part of town after dropping off hitchhiker. was he telling the whole story? as investigators turned up the heat, pedro would make an intriguing admission. once again, here's dennis murphy with circle of friends. >> college kids in the college
town. that first whif of freedom can lead to irresponsible behavior. campus police had begun to suspect something sin sister. >> when i first walked in, there was two girls in the lobby. erika and her sister. a male pedro was in an interview room. >> are you pedro. >> he was the last person known to see him. he topped the list of people. >> he wanted to hear mr. bravo's story from beginning to end so i could get a feel for what was going on. >> he's not missing for long. >> is me too. in the last 48 hours, when had you last seen him? >> yesterday. >> he rerun the account of had you they ran some errands. ran to best buy so christian could pick up the new kanye west cd.
>> that is them. >> he told the story of how they picked up a pitch hiker in a rough part of time. >> how old would you say he was? is. >> i'd say mid-50s. he had a bushy beard. >> how was he dressed? >> how and why he and christian parted ways that night. pedro revealed after dropping off the hitch hiker, they got into an argument about a girl. remember christian and erika had been trying to keep their new relationship a secret. this was about another girl in high school. >> i made a comment about this girl that he had had a crush on for three years. he got mad. he got silent. he told me to stop.
stop the car. he wanted to get out. >> i was angry at him too, so i stopped the car and said, fine, get out. >> he listened. described driving away, stopped at mcdonalds and going home to bed with no idea something had happened when his phone range at 4:00 am. >> i went back to sleep but i couldn't. i felt kind of guilty because i dropped him off. >> they searched his car for clues. they found something interesting. >> they found a reet of someone or him made a trip to mcdonalds during the night. >> mcdonalds where he claimed they had eaten. call it 7:00 p.m. and change.
the receipt was time stamped much later. 3:51 a.m. much later. >> the back and forth started sounding. >> you leave things out, it makes you look like you did something bad. >> as for the story of the hitch hiker, the cops checked it out. >> surveillance video in the area where they said they dropped him and it define anybody. we checked businesses to see if there was anybody like that who matched the description of the hitchhiker. >> so was pedro hiding anything? >> was there anything we need to change about where you, went to a times? >> there was. just one inseam the interview was ending, petro decided to
keep talking. there was something left out. >> one thing i have to tell you. i have to tell you one thing. >> that one thing was huge. >> in the scope, it was an argument. i made the comment about the girl. he came back with maybe you should go [bleep] yourself. that's when i turned and punched had imin the face. >> a fistfight, a new detail he didn't mention. -- bleeding from a sock in the nose. >> now i'm starting to believe there is something more to this than a missing person. >> but why? while investigators tried to figure it out, they decided they couldn't let pedro go home. they charged him with depriving a victim of medical care, for bloodying christians nose and then leaving him on the side of
the road. >> >> i had a suspicion. what could have happened? what is pedro capable of? >> meanwhile, the search was only getting bigger and for his family and friends, more desperate? >> what is going through your head? it is me alex, i'm trying to find you? >> when we were searching, it's more, just to do something. you feel useless and helpless. >> posters are going? up -- >> gainesville police are doing their own searches to as they focus more and more their tension on pedro bravo and his wobbly story. they executed a search of his apartment less than two days after christianity gone missing, and what did they find stashed way up in pages closet? >> we found cushions backpack, hidden inside of pages backpack and hidden inside of --
>> wild friend have another friend's backpack? >> >> this is veronica her up. >> it was gone from being a person of interest to upper suspect? >> yes. it was very quickly it is hard to swallow something that huge. this is somebody you've known for so long. >> erika had to face the possibility that maybe she and christian hadn't been so good. maybe pedro had known and it sent them over the edge. >> i overheard the officers discussing like a love, jealous rage kind of thing, like a love triangle i think they had said. >> how did you bare up with that? >> i didn't want to think of that. i couldn't imagine somebody doing something so horrible. >> they processed his suv,
there it was, blood. now they believe he hasn't just punched out christian, they believe he killed him. a week after, he was charged with first degree murder. >> with the blood evidence, the backpack being hidden and him being away and not heard of for so long. we upgraded the charge to murder. >> pedro, your high school boyfriend is now charged with the first degree murder with the guy you are describing as the man of your life. >> yes. that's exactly what happened. very strange, strange life i have. >> there is an axiom, no body, no case. investigators hadn't found his body. what else were they finding out about pedro bravo. >> coming up, the case heads to court. the star witness. >> i didn't want to see him or be around him.
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the way. a bunch of volunteers and police officers. after three weeks of searching ... >> just down this road here is where the two men found human remains on friday afternoon. >> walking through some acreage came across a body in a shallow grave. it was christian. >> in a way, we were waiting it. we were just waiting for that phone call to happen. >> erika could not accept the news. >> you never want to hear that kind of news. at least we were able to find him. stanford versus pedro bravo ... >> nearly two years after christian died, his high school friend on tile for murder. he pleaded not guilty. >> erika, your personal belief, do you believe pedro killed christian? >> yes. >> why? i think with a mixture of jealousy, a mixture jealousy involving me. a love triangle, christian, his
new girlfriend erica and her ex, pedro bravo. a motive is old as time, prosecutors say. >> mr. bravo's claim, not just for chris [inaudible] he's got to reunite with erica. >> the prosecutor painted a picture not just of a teen depressed over the breakup and obsessed with getting erica back. the star witness was the object of his efforts. a very nervous erika. >>,,. >> pedro barely looking at her. >> i came all this way, i miss you like crazy and i love you despite everything that's happened. maybe i'm stupid. but i can't help the feeling. i'm sorry. i'm so, so sorry. >> on the stand asking erika to read out loud sections of pedro's journal to show how
fixated he was. >> i will win her back. i will win her back. i want to give up everything to be with her again. >> it was the sight of an evidence bag containing christian's backpack. his personal stuff that caused erika to lose it on the stand. >> i got really emotional and thrown back. why do you have to bring this out and show me this? >> the prosecution wasn't done. there is more to its theory of motive. despite their best efforts, they hadn't done a very good job concealing their relationship from pedro. >> he went into the facebook account and read conversations between erika and christian. >> christian was the romantic and he needed to go. >> we know he knew about it before they went off that day.
>> this wasn't a crime of passion. it was a cold, premeditated murder. the prosecution alleges pedro started planning his friends murder on september 16th, 2012, four days before christian disappeared. google searches were found on patrons laptop. questions like what is chlorofrom, can rubbing alcohol knock somebody out. what kinds of murders get solved. here on security video, petro but a sleep mate -- and a hunting knife. and a hunting knife and he bought a shovel at lowes. >> he bought a murder starter pack. he used those to drug and strangle his friend in his car. >> at 9:20 4:11, that car pulls it. >> they show the surveillance cam video of the suv.
investigators believe inside the vehicle the murder is going down. >> they sit there a long period of time and pull up a little further. and then they sit there for a longer time. >> when he leaves that parking lot, christian aguilar is dead. he murders him in the car. >> forensics confirmed that that was christians blood found in christians suv. they found even more intriguing ingredients in the trunk. empty gratorade with sleeping aid. >> those things together would cause someone to lose consciousness. once christian was dead, pedro had to dispose his friends body. the tale of that was told by pedro's phone. his iphone had been on airplane mode more than five hours but he could see he used an app, a
flashlight app 48 minutes. he uses the flashlight and spurring christians body. using evidence that tied him without reasonable doubt to the murder. >> he had duct tape around his ankles. ,. identified as being torn from the same piece of tape inside his windshield. >> when pedro was done burying his friend, he stopped at mcdonalds for that bite to eat and drove to a car wash. >> at 1:00 in the morning, we have pedro pulling up to a car wash and washing his vehicle for 12 minutes. tells me he's trying to get rid of evidence. when he got home, he washes closes and gets in bed in time to get the 4:00 call. >> who duct taped him? pedro bravo.
who buried him in the grave? pedro bravo. who killed him? pedro bravo. after calling witnesses to the sound, the prosecution rested its case. defense only needed one victim in response. >> pedro was about to take the stand. >> coming up, he would have a dramatically different story to tell. >> did you drink the concoction in the catered bottle? >> yes. i drink the concoction in the gatorade bottle. >> when dateline continues. your buick enclave. i just love our new alexa. dad, it's a buick. i love that new alexa smell. it's a buick. we need snacks for the team. alexa, take us to the nearest grocery store. getting directions. alexa will get us there in no time. it's a buick. let's be real. don't make me turn this alexa around. oh my. it's painful. the buick enclave, with available alexa built in. ask “alexa, tell me more about buick suvs.”
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pedro bravo was clear. so fixated on winning back his former girlfriend, he would kill anyone who got in the way. anyone. >> i didn't think pedro would deserve to walk the streets. i didn't think it would be safe for anyone to be out. i think he could be border line sociopath. law >> but the defense have a flip side. >> 18-year-old honor student from miami. chartered a calgary. he had issues. >> his best friend, that's what the defense said christian was. >> his lawyer said he never saw him as a romantic rival.
that's because he didn't know that cushion erica were dating until that day in the police station. >> do you know christian? >> yeah. >> how do you know him? >> i'm his girlfriend. now, the jury was about to hear from pitcher himself. when he took the stand, jurors the didn't see some psychokiller, love sick boy in a tidy suit. >> i graduated from doral academy. >> any distinctions? >> i graduated magna cum laud. he was desperate to rekindle his relationship with america. >> i still have her. i was still very enamored with her. when it became clear that she wasn't coming back, he told the jury that he sink into a deep
depression about erica and everything about assad, disintegrating life. >> basically, i felt like a failure. everything is a mess. and feel like i'm breaking apart piece by piece. >> that's why he made plans to hang out with christian that afternoon. he wanted friend -- help from his old friend. >> chris was one of the people i could talk to. he had gone from the same thing. >> how did that man-to-man talk end up in a fist fight. >> pedro said it started after christian said something terrible. >> he tells me, why don't you go [bleep] kill yourself. >> i turned around and hit him in the nose with my fist. >> while you were driving? >> yes. that could explain the blood in the car. >> he said he pulled over and a fight ensued in the streets. after a few minutes, pitcher left the scene. >> what is chris's condition
when you leave? >> all i can tell is that you can get up right away. he was still moving. >> still breathing? >> yes. >> when you did this, did you have any malicious intent to kill christian aguilar? >> no. it was all spur of the moment. >> you decided to leave? >> yes. >> have you come to regret that decision? >> i feel like i'm going to regret that decision the rest of my life. so, pedro admitted he bought christian. >> he claims he fought that decision but didn't kill him. >> he said the only person he wanted to destroy was himself. that's when he said he decided to do it. take his own life. >> was this just suicidal ideation or were you going to act on it? >> i was going to act on it. >> so all of that preparation wasn't about murder, it was suicide. the drug placed gatorade cocktail wasn't meant for
christian, it was meant for pedro himself. >> did you drink the concoction in the bottle? >> yes. >> obviously unsuccessful attempt. >> but arguing his desire to end his own life was very real. pedro was combing the web for information about chloroform, rubbing alcohol and sleeping pills because he was planning his own death. he even brought along the shovel as part of his plan. at the beginning, i was going to dig myself my grave. so, the jury had to decide. who is pager bravo? a killer without a conscience or self destructive, love sick boy? before they got the case, prosecutors gave the jurors something else to consider. some of the weirder evidence to ever come from a jailhouse snitch. >> casey your name, please? >> michael angelo who cut a deal in exchange was a cell mate of pedro bravo. >> one day.
he said he needed my help and slid a chip bag any my door. it had a note and it. the note asked the cellmate to find someone on the outside secret -- to find someone on the outside to commit a series of murders suggesting that the real murder was at large. and he, pedro, was still innocent. >> he wrote three to four people unfortunately must die. random individuals but preference would be to u.s. students. tased, incapacitated and strangled to kill and then have the hands dictate. >> it's basically a plan to christian was killed by a serial killer still out there. >> sow, just as the jurors struggled to put their minds around this twist, the trial come to an end. the fate of pedro bravo in their hands. so much for one family to go through. they were holding each other's hands. >> we all talked to each other. that day wasn't a day to celebrate.
erica knew there would be sorrow all around. in fact, the jurors came back in less than four hours. they found pedro guilty of murder in the first degree. a verdict the family wanted. but there were no winners that day. about an hour later, pedro bravo faced the judge at his sentencing. insisting to the end. >> i did not kill pedro bravo. i know in my heart but i did. and i know it got knows where they get. >> the judge sentenced him to life without parole. the day after the verdict, christian's family made a heartbreaking visit to where their son's body had been found. since his death, they've created the question aguilar search and rescue foundation which supports the use of tracking dogs. and his brother, alex, embraced the opportunity of graduating
from the university of florida in gainesville. >> i always followed that example. now that is gone, so i have to follow my honor. >> erika got her degree in gainesville along with memories she will carry forever. she can't forget that fleeting moment she fell in love with christian. and then he was gone. just like that. >> we weren't dating that long and had the death talk. what happens if tomorrow i'm hit by a car. he said i don't know what i would do without you. i said, i'll tell you what you'll do, you'll find somebody to live your life with. >> do you ever wake up in the morning and shake your fist and say pedro, why would you do this to me? >> it is so difficult. it is not going to happen again. >> it's so difficult
sometimes to think that way. i would still give anything for christian to be here. there's not going to be another joker. another smile when i see him working or something. it's not going to happen again. they're just memories. >> that's all for this edition of dateline. i'm craig melvin. thank you for watching. >> i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is dateline. >> she was a phenomenal, amazing person. she loved those girls. they were sweet, little twins. her pride and joy. it's really hard. >> pretty, poised, perfect. her twins were her world. >> the three of them were a tight unit.
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