Ed Aguiar said he was there the night his grandson Eric, 17, who was shot and killed Wednesday night on School Street in Sonora, was born.
"What you see in someone is growth. They go from when they're young and immature and in the normal course of life, you're lucky enough when you see that person start to change and grow, physically, mentally, spiritually, morally, ethically, everything," he said. "You start hearing stories about how this young man helped others, not for his own, but for their benefit."
In a conversation a year ago, Eric shared with his grandfather that he wanted to be an underwater welder. Ed Aguiar recommended he enter the Navy and finish his education.
"Eric had the ability and he demonstrated physically what he could do. His next challenge in life was to turn that physical aspect into succeeding in life. I'm not talking about a dollar amount. I'm talking about within your heart," Ed Aguiar said. "He had a lot of both. But he didn't get the chance."
On Friday, during a family at-home memorial for Eric Aguiar, some family members struggled to explain the depth of feeling they had for the boy while still representing the selfless positivity which defined him.
His uncle, Bryan Melton said offhand, "he leaked greatness on everyone."
Eric Aguiar's father, Josh, grabbed his brother by the hand, started to laugh and broke briefly the solemnity of his son's untimely and shocking passing.
"If someone needed something, he wanted to be the first one to make sure they had it," Josh Aguiar said.
On Thursday night at a candlelight vigil at Sonora High School, Josh Aguiar said he was approached by a young woman with a disability.
"She approached me and said I didn't know her, but she wanted to thank me because Eric changed her life. People always used to make fun of her her whole life until Eric came around. Eric stopped the bullies from coming around. He put her under his wing and befriended her and it changed her life."
Hundreds of people gathered at 8 p.m. Thursday to mourn Eric Aguiar's death.
The crowd included Aguiar's family, friends, peers, former coaches, teachers, and members of the community. They lined the curb across from the parking lot where he was shot with hundreds of candles that lit up posters and collages people had made featuring photos of Aguiar and descriptions about his personality that included loyal, determined, caring and goofy.
Josh Aguiar addressed the crowd at one point and thanked everyone for being there.
"We know his loss will not just go into the night quietly," he said.
"Thank you for all the people coming last night. Please give hope. If somebody knows something, which somebody does, please don't be afraid to talk," said Bryan Melton.
The Sonora Police Department as of Friday afternoon had not released any additional information regarding a suspect in Eric Aguiar's death.
"I just keep thinking he's going to come home," said Autumn Aguiar, the boy's mother. "They took the wrong kid. He really had such a good life ahead of him."
Eric Aguiar was born at the old Sonora Hospital. His family moved to Columbia when he was 1 and later to Groveland. He attended Tenaya Elementary School until sixth grade, finished middle school at Columbia Elementary School and transferred to Sonora High School.
His mother said he was at Sonora High School for two years and was at Gold Rush High School as a junior. As a senior, they hoped to put him back into Sonora High School to finish out the season with his two favorite sports — basketball and football.
Eric Aguiar's parents and family had a range of words to characterize him: a leader, courageous, a protector, funny and stubbornly individualistic.
"A lot of kids his age, they want to distance themselves from their parents and stuff, but Eric always made time to sit down and talk to me," Autumn said.
They said Eric Aguiar was at a transitional age, pursuing his growth, development and future success. In the last year, he mentioned getting into real estate or traveling. In each future he envisioned, he always imagined himself making his way in the world his own way.
"You could see how much he was loved and how he has demonstrated to be a good person in life," Melton said. "He was a model, especially for the younger generation. There was nobody who he couldn't encounter that he couldn't put a smile on their face."
His family said they hoped he was remembered as someone who was generous in spirit and always willing to lend a helping hand.
"He pretty much wanted everyone to love each other. He was a good kid and he pretty much just cared for everyone," said his sister, Nichole Pestoni.
The family is still planning what they said will be a public funeral ceremony for Eric Aguiar.
Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at email@example.com or (209) 588-4526.