College Sophomore's Dead Body Found Days After He Vanished While Home on Winter Break
Authorities would not say how Blaze Bernstein was killed or what the condition of his body was when it was found in Borrego Park in Lake Forest, California
The body of a 19-year-old college student was found on Tuesday in California about a week after he disappeared — and police are investigating whether his death was a homicide, PEOPLE confirms.
“Based off what they found at the scene they are considering it a homicide,” Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, tells PEOPLE.
Braun would not say how the teen, Blaze Bernstein, was killed or what the condition of his body was when it was discovered in Borrego Park in Lake Forest. She says a search warrant in the case was served in Newport Beach on Wednesday: “It is a very active investigation and investigators are following up on multiple leads.”
Authorities are “absolutely killing themselves to bring justice to this family,” she says.
Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore, was found dead on Tuesday around 2 p.m. in the brush along the perimeter of the park.
His family had reported him missing on Jan. 3 after he didn’t make a dental appointment. He was home from college on winter break and was scheduled to return to school that coming Sunday.
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“[His family] had seen him the evening before and they had dinner together and they all went their respective ways for the evening,” Braun says. “The parents shared in the morning they thought he was just sleeping in, and in the afternoon he missed his dental appointment and that is when they started to become concerned and they reached out to us shortly after that.”
Braun says investigators learned that Bernstein was either picked up or met a friend at Borrego Park around 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 and “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.”
The friend told investigators Bernstein was heading in the direction of nearby Whiting Ranch Park when he was last seen, Braun says. The friend allegedly drove off at one point and came back to look for Bernstein but couldn’t find him.
It is still unclear if Bernstein had plans to meet someone in the park, Braun says.
“There has kind of been some rumors about them meeting a third person,” she says. “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.”
Among those who searched for Bernstein were approximately 25 members of the sheriff’s search-and-rescue team, who swept through Borrego Park and Whiting Ranch Park for days. About 15 drone pilots entered the search on Sunday, looking for any clue as to the whereabouts of the teen, the Orange County Register reported.
Celebrities including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mayim Bialik and Kobe Bryant also posted about Bernstein’s disappearance on Facebook and Twitter.
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Bernstein’s father, Gideon, told reporters on Friday 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 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.”
An autopsy on his body is planned for Wednesday.
“Nineteen years old,” says Braun. “It is just so sad.”