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Body believed that of BC student

Supporters tried to comfort Luzmila Garcia after a body believed to be that of her son, Franco, was found Wednesday. Supporters tried to comfort Luzmila Garcia after a body believed to be that of her son, Franco, was found Wednesday. (JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / April 12, 2012
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NEWTON - With Franco Garcia’s disbelieving family and friends waiting on the banks of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, police divers recovered a body Wednesday that is thought to be that of the Boston College student who mysteriously disappeared on his way home from a Brighton bar seven weeks ago.

Members of his grief-stricken family gathered Wednesday a few hundred yards from where the recovery team worked, holding out hope up to the moment that authorities told them the body was probably his.

“We are not here waiting for horrible news today; we just want to think that he’s alive, that he’s not here,’’ said Antonio Espinoza, Garcia’s uncle.

But soon afterward, authorities gathered Garcia’s family at a nearby parking lot and informed them that physical characteristics and items found on the body strongly suggested it was that of the missing student.

The recovery of the body offered no immediate clues as to how a seemingly happy, promising 21-year-old student ended up in the water.

Garcia’s disappearance on Feb. 22, after hanging out with classmates at Mary Ann’s bar on Beacon Street in Cleveland Circle, has baffled investigators and relatives. He left the bar around 12:15 a.m., apparently heading back to campus where his car was parked, a walk that would take him past the reservoir. Friends at the bar said that Garcia had been drinking that night, but not to excess and that he did not appear drunk.

A surveillance camera at a Citizens Bank ATM in Cleveland Circle captured an image of him striding past at 12:18 a.m. Feb. 22, seemingly unharmed and unworried.

His family organized a search effort and hired a private investigator. Authorities searched the reservoir for four days, using a dive team and a boat equipped with sonar. But none of those efforts turned up any clues to Garcia’s whereabouts.

Then, on Wednesday, just before 8 a.m., a jogger noticed a body in the reservoir, according to authorities. By afternoon, dozens of Garcia’s family members were grieving.

“They found his ID on his body,’’ Espinoza said, standing in the front yard of the family’s home in West Newton, where relatives consoled one another inside and outside the residence.

Jose Garcia, Franco’s father, tightly clasped his hands together in front of his face as he stood on the sidewalk, his eyes teary and reddened.

“It’s just so tough right now for the family,’’ he said, holding back tears.

Luzmila Garcia, Franco’s mother, sat on her front steps, crying, before being led back into the house by two women.

At Boston College, students expressed sadness about the news of Garcia’s death. From the time he went missing, the case had cast a pall over the campus, where prayer vigils were held and students volunteered to help search.

“It’s really a sad story, and everyone around here is still curious about exactly what went down,’’ said Eddie Odio, 20, a freshman who is on the school’s basketball team. “I think it affected everybody here. You just don’t expect something like that to happen in such a nice and quiet town.’’

Kaleb Keaton, 27, a graduate student, said he remembered the search of the reservoir by State Police in the days following Garcia’s disappearance.

“I didn’t know him personally, but I got to know about him through e-mails and posters and thoughts and prayers out to his situation,’’ Keaton said. “In some way, I’m hoping there’s some sort of closure for his family, because I know it must have been so difficult for them not knowing what happened.’’

The body was discovered not far from a gatehouse just off Beacon Street and near the Reilly Memorial Recreation Center. Part of the body could be seen above water about 18 feet from the reservoir’s bank, in 7-foot deep water. A hilly, wooded area with rocky outcroppings borders the reservoir’s banks in that section.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said the official identification would come after an autopsy, which could be completed by Thursday.

Calling it “a sad day’’ for the family, Conley said State Police detectives from his office, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, would investigate and were already trying to reconstruct what happened in the last hours of Garcia’s life.

“By every measurement, Franco was an outstanding young man . . . an aspiring student who was very close to his family,’’ BC spokesman Jack Dunn said at a press conference at the reservoir.

Garcia was a junior in the Woods College of Advancing Studies, an evening school. He was a talented clarinetist who performed with the university marching and symphonic bands, college officials said. Garcia worked at a CVS in Waltham, and lived off-campus with his parents.

Wednesday, on the Twitter account they have maintained since his disappearance, the Garcia family posted, “Prayers and tears. We’ll love and miss you forever, Franco.’’

In late February, State Police had used both divers and sonar to search the reservoir for Garcia. State Police spokesman David Procopio said the search lasted four days. He noted that “visibility was not perfect,’’ with heavy weed conditions in some areas.

But he said State Police had been “tireless’’ in their efforts to find Garcia.

“Until the very last minute, we didn’t want to believe it was him,’’ Espinoza said. “We’re going to go through this, and keep Franco in our memories and hearts forever.’’

Brian Ballou may be reached at bballou@globe.com.

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