PEOPLE Explains: UPenn Student Blaze Bernstein’s Killing as New Details Emerge After Friend's Arrest
Blaze Bernstein was home in California on break from the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein was spending time at home with his family in Southern California for winter break when he went missing on Jan. 3.
The 19-year-old’s lifeless body was found Jan. 9 in a shallow grave in the brush surrounding Borrego Park in Lake Forest, California, his parents’ hometown. He had been stabbed more than 20 times, according to the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times.
Last Friday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department named Blaze’s high school friend Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, as the suspect in the case and arrested him on suspicion of homicide.
DNA evidence found inside Woodward’s vehicle and at the crime scene at the park allegedly ties him to the murder, the Register and the Times report.
Here are five things to know about the case.
1. Blaze Was Stabbed More Than 20 Times as Authorities Investigate Possible ‘Act of Rage’
Authorities have not yet said how they believe Blaze was killed. But on Monday the Orange County Register released details of an affidavit obtained before it was sealed revealing that Blaze was stabbed more than 20 times.
Now, authorities are investigating whether the murder was as an “act of rage” the Register reports.
Woodward picked up Blaze at his home at about 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 and drove to the parking lot of a Hobby Lobby in Lake Forest, near Borrego Park, according to the affidavit obtained by the Register.
Woodward told investigators that Blaze kissed him on the lips – and that he pushed the teen away, according to the affidavit.
While recounting that part of the story, Woodward allegedly “clenched his jaw and fists” as he told investigators that “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him,” the affidavit states.
When investigators asked Woodward about dirt under his nails and scratches on his hands, he told them he got them because he fell in a mud puddle as part of a “fight club,” the affidavit says.
Authorities have not yet released autopsy results.
Woodward is scheduled to be arraigned in Central Jail in Santa Ana on Wednesday, when he is expected to be charged, a spokeswoman with the Orange County District Attorney tells PEOPLE.
It is unclear if he has retained an attorney.
2. Police Have Not Commented on Motive
Authorities have not commented on a potential motive in Blaze’s killing. They are still investigating how well Woodward and Blaze knew each other when they attended high school at the Orange County School of the Arts —and why they were in the park together on the last night Blaze was seen alive.
The affidavit reveals that in June, Blaze texted two female friends about Woodward, the Register reports.
In one conversation, he texted that Woodward was about to “hit on me” and “he made me promise not to tell anyone … but I have texted every one, uh oh,” the affidavit states.
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Authorities said Friday that Woodward “has been cooperating with police,” although he has not confessed.
3. Celebrities Posted About Blaze’s Disappearance — While Police Had Surveillance on Woodward
Blaze was home in California on break from the University of Pennsylvania at the time of his disappearance and death. His family reported him missing on Jan. 3 after having dinner with him, after which they went their separate ways, Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, previously told PEOPLE.
After Blaze missed a dental appointment the following afternoon, his parents reported him missing. Authorities scoured the area for days before his body was found.
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Celebrities including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mayim Bialik, and Kobe Bryant also posted about Blaze’s disappearance on Facebook and Twitter.
Investigators had Woodward under surveillance “for some time” before his arrest, based on alleged inconsistencies in his interviews with police, Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes said on Friday.
Blaze’s Snapchat account led investigators to Woodward, Barnes said.
4. Blaze Was a Pre-Med Student and Editor of Campus Food Magazine
Blaze’s father, Gideon Bernstein, told reporters that his son had just become the managing editor of Penn Appétit, a food magazine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“He was very excited about that,” Gideon said, according to the Orange County Register. “He was working on that over the winter break and showed us the magazine they just published, which he significantly contributed to.”
Gideon said his son intended to declare a major in psychology with a minor in chemistry, “pursuing it with a pre-med focus.”
5. Fearing Hate Crime, Blaze’s Parents Say ‘We are in Solidarity with LGBTQ Community’
On Monday, after the Register published gory details of Blaze’s death from an affidavit obtained before it was sealed, his parents, Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein, released a statement criticizing the timing of the story.
“We are saddened to hear, on the day we laid our son to rest, that gruesome details of the cause of his death were published,” the Bernsteins wrote, the Times reports. “Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything. 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.
“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 [a] hate crime.”
The family has asked that contributions be made to the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County. Donations will be given to the Orangewood Foundation and other organizations that help children and families in need.