Isaac Aguilar has no memories of his deceased father, but the amateur boxer from West Valley City fights so that Victor Aguilar will never be forgotten.
“Every fight I have is for my dad,” said Aguilar, 22. “That’s who I want to win for. I dedicate every single one of my fights to him.”
A pie chef at the Marie Callender’s restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City, Victor Aguilar became the victim of one of the most heinous and brutal murders in city history, on March 3, 1990 — when Isaac Aguilar was only 9 months old.
A month before his death, the 37-year-old father of four small children earned his green card and was granted U.S. citizenship. But he was savagely beaten to the point of unconsciousness and stabbed in the back five times with a 12-inch knife after arriving at work at 4 a.m.
Victor Aguilar surprised a former employee and his accomplice, who were trying to pry loose the restaurant’s safe because the code no longer worked. They killed Aguilar simply because he recognized them.
The gruesome crime drew statewide outrage and left four children, all under the age of 8, without a father, and Julia Palazeulos Aguilar, a Mexican immigrant with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Brigham Young University, without her husband of 10 years.
Isaac Aguilar “boxes to get away that anger that is in his heart, that has never left his heart,” said Julia Aguilar, who never remarried while raising her four children alone. “It is a way to release the anxiety of why somebody took his father away.”
Aguilar will represent Utah in the 123-pound division at the Golden Gloves Rocky Mountain Regionals this weekend at The Sports Mall, 5445 S. 900 E., Murray. Winners move on to the National Golden Gloves Tournament in May in Mesquite, Nev. Next year, the national tournament returns to Salt Lake City.
Somewhere, Isaac Aguilar believes, the humble migrant worker from the poorest state in Mexico who came to Utah in 1980, met his future wife in Provo at a BYU-sponsored Valentine’s dance and settled in West Valley City to live the American dream is proud of him.
“The main killer, the main stabber [Thomas Trujillo, aka Thomas Noffsinger, who is serving a life prison sentence after making a plea deal to avoid a possible death sentence] knew my dad,” Aguilar says bluntly, recalling that awful night. “He had worked with him. He knew he was married, had four kids and was the most humble, non-violent person on earth. And he killed him anyway.”
The other man at the restaurant that night, Grant David Stensrud, was convicted of second-degree murder and spent time in prison before being paroled in 2007. But at Noffsinger’s parole hearing in 2010, Aguilar’s sister, Elizabeth, who was 8 at the time of the murder, faced the man who killed her father and courageously testified of a lifetime of pain and emotional suffering brought about by the senseless murder. Her tales of persistent childhood nightmares for her and her younger sister, Lethy, who was 7 in 1990, brought a flood of tears to the courtroom, according to news reports.
Two weeks later, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole ordered Noffsinger to serve out the rest of his life in prison.
Victor Aguilar was not a fighter. Julia Aguilar says her husband, who loved to cook for friends and family, didn’t have a mean bone in his body. But his youngest son became a fighter almost by accident, and the sport of boxing has given him direction, became a surrogate father of sorts. Isaac and his brother, Jared, who was 5 at the time of Victor’s death, found some gloves and boxed in their front yard when they were teenagers.
A friend eventually took Isaac to the Sorensen Multicultural Center’s gym in Salt Lake City when he was 15, and he’s compiled a 40-10 record ever since, winning seven consecutive state championships in his weight division until a broken thumb snapped the streak last year.
Isaac’s favorite accomplishment is that he’s lost just one bout against a Utah opponent, which came in his very first fight. He made it to the quarterfinals of the National Golden Gloves tournament in Salt Lake City in 2009 before losing a close bout to Californian Michael Ruiz.
His best feat, according to his mother, is that he turned his life around during his time at WVC’s Kennedy Junior High after failing a drug test and coming home one day with a report card that featured a string of failing grades. Using boxing and the discipline and work ethic it taught him, Isaac eventually made the honor roll at Kennedy and graduated from Hunter High School with a 3.5 grade point average.
He now works full-time as a vendor for Coca-Cola, while training 15-20 hours a week in boxing with hopes of turning professional sometime next year.
“Boxing has done a lot for me,” Aguilar said. “It has taught me discipline and given me purpose. It has helped me gain a sense of self-worth, and gained me the respect that I didn’t have before. I owe a lot to the sport, for where it has taken me.”
Golden Gloves Rocky Mountain Regionals
When • Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where • The Sports Mall, 5445 S. 900 E., Murray
Who • State champions from Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming
Admission • Adults $12; children 5 and older $5