The new year turned into a nightmare for one Southern California family, when their son Blaze Bernstein went missing while home from the University of Pennsylvania on winter break. Blaze was a 19-year-old pre-med student. He was the managing editor of his college's food magazine. He was excited for the future. And then he was found dead in a park. Read on to learn about this tragic case.
Blaze Bernstein's disappearance.
On Jan. 2, Blaze left his home in Lake Forest, CA to go to Borrego Park with a friend. The pair apparently got out of the car and entered the park around 11 p.m. “They got separated somehow and the friend told our investigators that Blaze walked off and he didn’t return, and that was the last time the friend said he saw him," Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Carrie Braun told People. Blaze's parents didn't realize he was missing until Jan. 3. They simply assumed he was sleeping in until he missed an afternoon dentist appointment and noticed he wasn't at home. That's when they contacted police and began scouring the park.
The community gets involved.
Blaze's case quickly captured the attention of the community, both in Orange County and online on sites like Facebook and reddit. 25 members of the sheriff’s search-and-rescue team came to help look for Blaze, as did 15 drone pilots searching for clues by air. Celebrities also took interest in the case, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mayim Bialik, and Kobe Bryant using their fame to help spread the word. People online went over all of the evidence with a fine-tooth comb, looking for something authorities may have missed.
Blaze's body was finally found on Jan. 10, with police explaining that the heavy rains made him easier to find. His family, community, and supporters were devastated. Hundreds came out for a candlelight vigil in the park that night to mourn his loss. After finding his body, police determined that this was a homicide.
The suspects in Blaze Bernstein's death.
On Jan. 12, a young male suspect was seen being taken into police the police station after being arrested, according to ABC News. Police later revealed the suspect to be high school friend Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, the same person Blaze was with on the night he died. The sheriff's office said one day earlier that a search warrant was served in Newport Beach on Jan. 9 for Blaze's friend. According to that search warrant affidavit, the friend seemed nervous during an interview two days after the disappearance. "[He was] breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking," said the document, obtained by the Orange County Register. He also had "dirt under the fingernails" on both hands. Detectives also "noticed that his hands had several small scratches and abrasions. The friend said the scratches and abrasions were from a 'fight club' that he was involved in." Samuel has not admitted to the killing, though he has been cooperating with police.
There may have been another person in the park that night, though that's still under investigation. “There has kind of been some rumors about them meeting a third person,” said Braun. “I don’t have specific information on that. At this point, the best thing to say is our investigators are actively following up on every lead that they can that will lead to an arrest of a suspect in this case.”
Blaze Bernstein's autopsy results.
Police have not yet released a cause of death for Blaze. They didn't give any updates on the condition of the body once it was found on Jan. 9, but they did begin an autopsy on Jan. 10. So far no information from that autopsy has been released. Our thoughts go out to his family in this tragic time.