Hundreds gathered to honor the life of College sophomore Blaze Bernstein at a public memorial in Orange County, Calif. on Sunday.
Bernstein’s family, including his parents Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper, called on the public to carry out acts of kindness in the younger Bernstein’s name at the event. The memorial, entitled #BlazeItForward, was organized to thank volunteers who helped search for Bernstein when he went missing and who continued to help the family after his body was found, according to David Thalberg, who managed publicity for the event.
Although admission to the event was free, attendees were invited to donate money to the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund or bring canned food for donation. More than 1,300 people attended the memorial held at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, Calif., according to ABC News. The public event follows a campus memorial held for Bernstein at the Kelly Writers House on Feb. 18.
"[The event] is a tribute to Blaze and an opportunity to galvanize the community to do acts of kindness, one good act a time," Blaze's father Gideon Bernstein told ABC. "Every act of kindness in his name is the spark that keeps his soul alive."
Bernstein’s body was found in a shallow grave on Jan. 9 in Borrego Park while he was at home for winter break. Prosecutors have not yet ruled out the possibility of the alleged murder being classified as a hate crime. Reports of his alleged killer’s ties to a neo-Nazi group surfaced in a report published by ProPublica.
Bernstein’s mother, Jeanne Pepper, thanked attendees and shared stories from his life in her opening remarks. She read a letter she wrote to Bernstein following his high school graduation from the Orange County School of the Arts in 2016.
“In the past weeks, I’ve struggled greatly with accepting the horrible thing that happened to Blaze and to our family,” Pepper said in her speech.
“I know I have to continue on for my other two children and my husband and because I have things to do now. Important things, and I want to do them for you.”
Gideon Bernstein added that although the family has struggled in the wake of their son's death, the acts of kindness have been a "recipe for healing."
Other current students and alumni from Bernstein’s high school paid tribute to him through musical performances and readings of his poems, including “Picking Marbles from Dirt,” which was published in the literary magazine Penn Review when Bernstein was a high school student. His friend, Maisy Menzies, also shared memories she had of Bernstein during his life.
“You were a constant even though everything about you was always changing," Menzies said during the memorial. "Your ambition forever driven, your list of accolades forever growing, your life forever grand."
“I will seek knowledge and kindness for you, and I will live every day with you branded on my heart.”
The Bernstein family will also host annual “communal acts of kindness events” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the anniversary of Bernstein’s burial, according to ABC.
At Penn, Bernstein was involved with multiple publications, including Penn Appetit, the food magazine for which Bernstein was elected managing editor just before winter break. He also intended follow the premedical track and major in psychology.
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