Sam Woodward of Newport Beach was arrested around 1:15 p.m Friday on suspicion of murder in connection with the Blaze Bernstein homicide. The 20-year-old was the last person to see Blaze alive the night he disappeared at Borrega Park and had been questioned by investigators several times, as per a now-sealed affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register.
During that questioning, officials from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department documented Woodward as appearing nervous and fidgety, with serious inconsistencies in his recollection of the night’s events. He said he left Blaze at the park to visit his girlfriend but couldn’t recall her last name or where she lived. Investigators also noted Woodward had dirt beneath his nails, a belt and shovel inside his rental car and scratches along his wrists, which he attributed to participation in a “fight club.”
These suspect details and more ultimately led to Woodward’s arrest early this afternoon.
“We are enormously grateful to the local law enforcement, specifically the dedicated men and women of Orange County Sheriff’s department and the countless volunteers who helped in the search to find Blaze,” said Annee Della Donna, an attorney and friend of the family, during a press conference held 4 p.m. today. “We will continue to search for justice for Blaze and his family.”
Jeanne Pepper, Blaze’s mother, tweeted her reaction after Woodward was arrested by OCSD:
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
On a years-old last.fm account suspected to belong to Woodward, the Newport Beach resident, then 16 years old, wrote that his hobbies include competitive shooting. He also said, “Everyone should go hunting.”
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced during the press conference that charges against Woodward were pending but would likely not be filed over the weekend. Woodward is currently in the custody of OCSD.
“Blaze wanted to make the world a better place,” said Della Donna. “With his death a beautiful light has been extinguished and we encourage you to continue to shine his light through acts of kindness.”
To donate to the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund, visit jcfoc.org/blaze.