In the latest update to the homicide case of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein, the Orange County Register reported on Jan. 15 that Bernstein was stabbed over 20 times in what authorities suggest was "an act of rage."
Bernstein, who went missing on Jan. 2, was found dead in a shallow grave around the perimeter of Borrego Park last week.
In a press conference held by the Orange County Sheriff's Department on Jan. 12, authorities confirmed that the suspect taken into custody is Samuel Woodward, 20, who along with Bernstein, attended the Orange County School of the Arts, one of the top schools in the country to study creative writing. The OC Register said Woodward could be formally charged with the crime as early as Jan. 16, Tuesday.
According to the OC Sheriff's Department, Woodward was the last person in contact with Bernstein before he disappeared. On the night of Jan. 2, Woodward picked Bernstein up and they drove to multiple locations before arriving at Borrego Park.
When the OC Sheriff's Department initially interviewed Woodward, he said that he dropped Bernstein off at the park and waited for an hour in the car. When Bernstein didn't return, Woodward said he left.
But after multiple search warrants and interviews, authorities began to question Woodward's testimony.
"Based on inconsistencies in the story of [Woodward], we focused on him as a suspect," Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes said. He was later arrested when crime lab technicians confirmed that blood found on a sleeping bag in Woodward's possession belonged to Bernstein.
According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register, detectives who spoke to Woodward two days after Bernstein's disappearance noticed that his hands appeared to have small scratches on them and he appeared to have "dirt under his fingernails." The affidavit also reportedly stated that Woodward attributed the scratches and abrasions to a "fight club."
While Barnes said authorities have confirmed that Woodward and Bernstein knew each other from high school, they do not yet know the nature of their relationship. However, an affidavit obtained by the OC Register suggests that the two may have had a romantic relationship.
In the court document, Woodward reportedly told authorities that Bernstein had tried to kiss him on the lips, and that he had rejected Bernstein's attempts. When he described this anecdote, authorities said Woodward clenched his jaw and added that “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him.”
It was also noted in the affidavit that Woodward was known among peers in high school for being a political conservative, and making impassioned defenses for controversial symbols like the Confederate flag.
Bernstein went missing just five days before he was planning on returning to Penn for the spring semester.
News of Woodward's arrest came two days after Bernstein's identity was confirmed as the body found in Borrego Park. It also comes after days of expansive search and rescue missions conducted by the OC Sheriff's Department in the area. Bernstein's father, Gideon Bernstein, had also worked with friends of the family to conduct independent drone operations.
His mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Bernstein already had items packed up to return to campus the night he went missing.
The student had also just been elected to serve as the managing editor of Penn Appétit, a food publication at Penn, and had spent time over winter break brainstorming editorial visions and strategies to implement this coming year for the magazine. Bernstein's father said he found those notes and sent them to the executive director, Wharton sophomore Rachel Prokupek, to use this coming year.
A candlelight vigil was held at the Kelly Writers House on Jan. 10 for those close to Blaze, though it was open to all students. The following day, University administrators held a support session in Houston Hall.
Bernstein's parents said they expect to come to campus sometime in the future to hold a larger memorial to honor their son with members of the Penn community.
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