After an exhaustive, emotional week-long search for 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania sophomore Blaze Bernstein, who went missing Jan. 2, authorities yesterday confirmed a positive ID on a body found in Borrega Park, Lake Forest, Calif.
The park, nearby his family home, is also the location where Blaze was thought to have first gone missing, after leaving his house at 11 p.m. to meet up with an unknown friend. He never returned.
His body was recovered under brush around 2 p.m. Tuesday, despite prior searches by 25 officers from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD), rescue dogs and even private drones belonging to a friend of the Bernstein family.
Now, the case has turned from missing person to potential homicide for OCSD.
“There have been no homicides in Lake Forest in the four years that I have been Chief of Police Services,” said Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Chief of Police Services Lt. Brad Valentine. “Lake Forest has a reputation of being a safe community, and we will do everything in our power to keep it that way.”
Just this morning, it was revealed a search warrant had been served by OCSD for a home in Newport Beach, believed to have a potential connection to the alleged homicide. According to Valentine, there is no suspect in custody at this time.
Bernstein was described by friends and family as affable and intelligent with a penchant for words. At UPenn, he was set to become managing editor for the university’s food publication, Penn Appétit.
He also had a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol.
“Blaze was a brilliant, colorful, and charismatic man who shined light on all of the lives of the people and communities he touched. Needless to say, our family is devastated by the news,” Gideon Bernstein said on Wednesday during a press conference in Lake Forest.
His wife, Jeanne Pepper, was tearful as he described her as “his rock.” He also said, “We – like so many of you around the world – love Blaze and wanted nothing more than his safe return.”
For those looking to give back or honor Blaze, the Bernsteins have set up the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund, which benefits local families in need: jcfoc.org/blaze/
*Update: A suspect, 20-year-old Sam Woodward, has been apprehended and is currently being held in custody in potential connection with the alleged homicide. Read more here.*