A suspect has been named in the case of University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein, who went missing during his winter break and was found dead last week. During a press conference on Friday, Jan. 12, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department named Blaze’s high school friend, Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, as the primary person of interest in the case. Undersheriff Don Barnes said the Bernstein family allowed police access to Blaze's social media accounts, including Snapchat, which led authorities to Sam.
"Based on inconsistencies in [Samuel’s account], our investigators focused on this individual in the homicide of Blaze," Don said, adding Samuel has been under surveillance "for some time" before his arrest at 1:15 p.m. on Friday. He continued, "How well they were friends in high school we do not know. We don’t know why they were at the park. There was a reference to a third person by Woodward [but] we suspect he was acting alone."
Samuel was interviewed by investigators and said they were meeting another friend at Borrego Park in Lake Forest, CA, where Bernstein’s body was eventually found in a "shallow grave." Samuel allegedly told investigators that Blaze walked off by himself and that an hour later, he couldn't find him. He then claimed he left the park but returned to attempt to locate Blaze. When he didn't, he told police he left.
Upon news of Samuel's arrest, a Twitter account from an account appearing to be the account of Blaze’s mother, Jeanne Pepper, tweeted an emotional statement. "Finally. My thoughts are: Revenge is empty. It will never bring back my son," she wrote. "My only hopes are that he will never have the opportunity to hurt anyone else again and that something meaningful can come from the senseless act of Blaze’s murder. Now Do Good for Blaze Bernstein."
Finally. My thoughts are: Revenge is empty. It will never bring back my son. My only hopes are that he will never have the opportunity to hurt anyone else again and that something meaningful can come from the senseless act of Blaze's murder. Now Do Good for Blaze Bernstein
— Jeanne Pepper (@bernsteinmom) January 12, 2018
Blaze was found dead on Tuesday around 2 p.m. along the perimeter of Borrego Park. His family had reported him missing on Jan. 3 after he didn’t make a dental appointment. According to a report by the Orange County Register on Monday, Blaze had been stabbed more than 20 times, leading investigators to wonder if the killing was an act of rage. A search warrant affidavit indicated that 19-year-old may have been planning to sexually pursue Samuel.
"Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything," Blaze's parents wrote in a statement obtained by People. "We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community. There is still much discovery to be done and if it is determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of hate crime."