October 22, 2019

Memorial Held for Slain College Student

The parents of slain Orange County Jewish teenager Blaze Bernstein, 19, mourned their son’s death during a Jan. 15 funeral service at University Synagogue in Irvine.

“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,” Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein said in a statement released on Monday. “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.

“There is still much discovery to be done and 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 hate crime,” the statement said.

Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student, was stabbed more than 20 times on Jan 2.

Last Friday, authorities arrested Samuel Woodward, 20, Bernstein’s former high school classmate, on suspicion of Bernstein’s murder.

Woodward reportedly told investigators that Bernstein tried to kiss him.

Bernstein was reporting missing from his home at Lake Forest, on Jan. 3.  A search for him followed. Bernstein’s body was found on Jan. 9 in a shallow grave near a Lake Forest park.

Woodward, who was initially considered a witness, not a suspect, in Bernstein’s death, had told investigators that he had picked Bernstein up on the night of Jan. 2 for a late visit and drove Bernstein to a park. Woodward said he went to a restroom at the park and when he came out, Bernstein was gone and didn’t answer his phone.

Investigators discovered inconsistencies in Woodward’s story, however, and arrested Woodward after discovering Bernstein’s blood on Woodward’s sleeping bag.

According to a 16-page search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register, text messages sent by Bernstein suggested he may have been planning to sexually pursue Woodward.

Bernstein was home visiting his family during winter break at the time of his death.

Last Friday, Rabbi Arnold Rachlis addressed more than 500 attendees at Bernstein’s funeral. He expressed disbelief at Bernstein’s death.

“We are gathered here today because this is a death that we never expected and still find hard to believe,” he said during the 90-minute service.

Additional speakers included Gideon Bernstein, who spoke his final words to his son.

“Blaze, I know you didn’t like the spotlight,” he said, “but you’d be amazed at all the good things being done in your honor here today.”