Blaze Bernstein murder case: Penn student reportedly stabbed more than 20 times

Posted at 8:31 AM, Jan 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-16 11:31:44-05

IRVINE, Calif. (CNS) - A private funeral service was held for Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old Ivy League student who disappeared in Orange County while home on winter break and was found dead a week later, leading to the arrest of a former classmate on suspicion of murder.

On Monday, Bernstein's family issued a statement "on this day of true sadness," thanking the public for its support during the search for Bernstein and the discovery of his body.

"We are heartbroken," according to the family. "As we lay Blaze to rest, we ask that communities around the world that were touched by Blaze's life, help us keep him memory and loving spirit alive.

"Blaze was on a path to repair our world and it is a moral imperative that we all take steps now to make sure that his dream is realized. We won't succumb to hate, bitterness or disillusionment; we will use wisely the time we have left together. When we stop crying we will start doing positive things to affect change. We ask that everyone work towards something good. Stop being complacent. Do something now.

RELATED: Missing Penn student found dead in OC park

"In the months to come, as part of our healing process, we too will act to heal the world. That is what Blaze would want. We still believe that people are good. We have seen this firsthand in the tremendous amount of support we have received from people worldwide. We can do this!"

The private memorial service was held at University Synagogue in Irvine. Relatives and friends who attended the service were given a small baking spatula and a cake recipe that Bernstein created himself and had prepared over the holidays.

Bernstein, a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania, disappeared around 11 p.m. Jan. 2 at Borrego Park in Lake Forest. He was reported missing the next day by his family after he missed a dental appointment and failed to answer telephone calls and text messages. After a weeklong search, his body was found Jan. 9 on the outskirts of the park, in a shallow grave.

On Friday, one of Bernstein's former classmates at the Orange County School for the Arts, 20-year-old Sam Lincoln Woodward, was arrested near his home in Newport Beach in connection with Bernstein's death.

Sheriff's officials said Woodward drove Bernstein to the park the night of Jan. 2. He told investigators that Bernstein wandered into the park and disappeared. Woodward eventually left the park at 1 a.m., telling investigators he drove to a girlfriend's house in Tustin, but returned about 3:40 a.m. when Bernstein still had not surfaced, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register.

RELATED: High school friend arrested in death of Penn student

In subsequent interviews, however, Woodward was unable to remember the girlfriend's name or address, according to the affidavit. Woodward also had scratches and abrasions on his hands, which he attributed to a "fight club" in which he was involved. He also had dirt under his fingernails, with Woodward saying he had fallen into a mud puddle.

Woodward had initially told investigators he drove Bernstein to the park to meet a third person.

Sheriff's officials said DNA evidence ties Woodward to Bernstein's death, although they have not provided any specifics. Investigators also have not said how Bernstein died, nor have they indicated a possible motive for the killing.

The Orange County Register reported Monday that Bernstein was stabbed more than 20 times, and authorities were investigating if the killing was an "act of rage." The paper reported that according to the affidavit, Bernstein told friends last summer that Woodward was about to "hit on me" and that Woodward "made me promise not to tell anyone ... but I have texted every one, uh oh."

According to the affidavit, Woodward told investigators that Bernstein had kissed him on the lips the night Bernstein disappeared, and Woodward pushed him away, the Register reported.

The paper also reported that the DNA evidence connecting Woodward to the crime was blood -- belonging to Bernstein -- found on a sleeping bag in Woodward's possession.

Woodward could be charged as early as Tuesday.

Over the weekend, KCAL9/CBS2 reported that Woodward made questionable posts on social media sites, including one defending the Confederate flag and another saying he would like to learn "waterboarding." Another post states that he would choose a "Bible and a Colt .45" as two items he would take if stranded on an island.