On January 9, Blaze Bernstein's lifeless body was found in a shallow grave. The 19-year-old Penn State Student had been missing for six days after going to visit his family in Southern California over the Christmas break.
Blaze's family reached out to try and find their son, and it caught the attention of celebrities on social media. Stars like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mayim Bialik, and Kobe Bryant all pleaded for the safe return of the missing teen. Sadly, it was to no avail.
The young student was found in a shallow grave, and according to Carrie Braun, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department, “the condition of the body at the time it was discovered turned it from a missing person to a homicide immediately.”
Blaze was found stabbed over 20 times, which indicated to authorities that it was an act of rage. According to his parents, the pre-med student was excited to be working on Penn Appétit, a food magazine at his school.
“He was very excited about that,” Gideon Bernstein said, according to the Orange CountyRegister. “He was working on that over the winter break and showed us the magazine they just published, which he significantly contributed to.”
Hundreds of people showed up to a candlelight vigil for Blaze, hoping to find answers.
Now, police have someone in custody, and the possible motive is truly upsetting.
A former high school classmate of Blaze, 20-year-old Samuel Lincoln Woodward, was arrested on suspicion of homicide on January 12, after DNA evidence linked him to the student's death.
According to an affidavit, Woodward picked Blaze up at 11pm on January 2, and drove to a nearby parking lot. Blaze kissed Woodward, who says he then pushed him off. Woodward allegedly “clenched his jaw and fists” as he told investigators that “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him."
Authorities interviewed Woodward after Blaze disappeared, and they noted that he was nervous, not touching anything in the office building. He also told investigators that Blaze walked to the park where his body was eventually found on his own, while Woodward drove away to wait for a girlfriend.
The affidavit also reveals that Blaze had previously been hit on by Woodward, but was told not to tell anyone.
“He made me promise not to tell anyone … but I have texted every one, uh oh,” the affidavit states.
Woodward has been cooperating with police, but he has not confessed to killing the teen at this time. He's been charged with murder, along with a sentencing enhancement citing the personal use of a deadly weapon.
“He is accused of having abrasions, scratches and dirt on his hands,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said. “He’s also accused of cleaning up the car that he used the night he picked up Blaze. We are continuing to investigate, we’re looking through all matters of communication, all the things that were said and done, and working to try and determine that [it was a hate crime]. We’re looking for that evidence, if and when we find it, we’ll amend the charges and file that.”
Blaze's parents have asked that contributions be made to the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County. They also spoke about their son's death being so publicized, and the possibility that it was a hate crime.
“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. “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.”