Crime & Justice

Friend arrested in killing of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein

Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein, parents of missing teen Blaze, pictured left, whose body was found Tuesday are joined by Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Brad Valentine, right, during a news conference in Lake Forest on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.
Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein, parents of missing teen Blaze, pictured left, whose body was found Tuesday are joined by Orange County Sheriff's Lt. Brad Valentine, right, during a news conference in Lake Forest on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.
Amy Taxin/AP

A man who went to high school with 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein has been arrested in connection with the college student's death. Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student who was back home in Southern California on winter break, was reported missing on Jan. 3. His body was found a week later, buried in a shallow grave in a Lake Forest park.

Samuel Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, who authorities called a "friend," was taken into custody in connection with Bernstein's killing. Undersheriff Don Barnes said DNA evidence links Woodward to the crime. The motive remains under investigation.

Woodward is expected to be charged on Tuesday, at the earliest, but Orange County sheriff's officials haven't released specific charges.

Investigators believe that on the night of Jan. 2, Woodward picked up Bernstein and they drove to multiple locations before arriving at Borrego Park. Bernstein never returned home and the next day, his family reported him missing.

Woodward was later interviewed by authorities, who described him as nervous and said he had scratched hands and dirt under his fingernails. Woodward told authorities that Bernstein walked into the park after getting out of his car. Woodward says he waited then left about an hour later when Bernstein did not return or respond on social media.

Search and rescue crews looked for Bernstein for several days, with assistance from drone pilots. Bernstein's body was found on Jan. 9 after rains exposed the spot where he was buried, according to Barnes.

The cause of death has not been released.

Bernstein's death rocked the tight-knit community 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil to remember him.

“Any time a murder of someone so young occurs, it has a chilling impact on a community, particularly in a community that’s blessed largely to be immune to such violence,” Undersheriff Barnes said.

It is the only homicide reported in Lake Forest in at least four years, according to authorities.

Bernstein studied creative writing at the Orange County High School of the Arts before heading to the University of Pennsylvania. He was recently chosen to edit a culinary magazine at the Ivy League school.

Anyone with additional information can call the Orange County Sheriff's Department at (714) 647-7000. Anonymous tips can be made to Orange County Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-OCCS. A few days after Bernstein's body was found buried a shallow grave in a Lake Forest park, Samuel Woodward, 20, has been taken into custody.

This story has been updated.