Be kind. Give back. Pay it forward.
That’s what slain University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein’s parents asked the more 2,500 people who attended an emotional tribute Sunday to honor their 19-year-old son, who was killed in January while home in California on winter break.
Blaze’s parents said they hoped the event, which is part of the #BlazeItForward movement they created after their son’s death, would encourage others to do good in the world.
The gathering, Blaze’s father Gideon Bernstein told ABC’s 20/20, was “a tribute to Blaze and an opportunity to galvanize the community to do acts of kindness, one good act a time.”
He added, “Every act of kindness in his name is the spark that keeps his soul alive.”
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During the emotional ceremony, held at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, a video showing Blaze at various stages of his young life flashed on a giant screen, as his friends sang, played music and remembered him as a talented artist, writer and chef, local station KTLA reports.
“Nothing you ever did was ever average, it was always profoundly good and unique, just like you,” his mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, read from a letter she wrote to her son when he graduated from the Orange County School of the Arts.
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Another video presentation showcased testimonials from people who have performed acts of kindness in Blaze’s name.
Besides honoring their son’s memory and asking people to do good deeds — including bringing canned goods to the event to donate to local food banks — the Bernsteins thanked the people who helped search for Blaze in the days after he went missing.
Blaze was home in Lake Forest for winter break when he vanished Jan. 2. After an extensive search, his body was found six days later in a shallow grave in a local park, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said.
Samuel Woodward, a former high school classmate of Blaze’s, was charged with murder in Blaze’s stabbing death. Woodward pleaded not guilty Feb. 2 in Orange County Superior Court.
Prosecutors are still investigating whether the alleged murder was a hate crime, since Blaze identified as gay and was Jewish, say authorities.
Vowing to make something positive come from their son’s death, the Bernsteins say they plan to hold communal acts of kindness events every year on Martin Luther King Day — the anniversary of the day Blaze was buried.
“I can’t really accept it still, when somebody like this is taken from you so quickly in such a terrible way,” said Blaze’s mother, local station KABC reports.
“You feel like they’re still part of you even though you know they’re gone.”