Former Penn student Blaze Bernstein went missing over winter break while visiting his family before being found dead in a park in Orange County, Calif. in January. Within weeks, Samuel Woodward, a former high school classmate of Bernstein, was arrested for his murder. Since then, prosecutors in the case have accused Woodward of killing Bernstein in a hate crime because the Penn student was Jewish and gay.
Now, as Woodward sits in Orange County jail without bail awaiting trial, CBS's "48 Hours" released an episode profiling the case in which Bernstein's friends and family shared memories of his life and their response to his death.
Entitled "In the Name of Hate," the nearly hour-long episode included interviews that characterized Bernstein as a vivacious, intelligent student with a promising future and depicted his alleged killer as a disturbed young man with a history of violence and ties to a violent hate group.
Neither Woodward or his defense lawyers spoke to "48 Hours" for the episode. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Bernstein and Woodward first met as classmates at the Orange County School of the Arts, which Woodward attended through his sophomore year of high school. Raiah Rofsky, a longtime friend of Bernstein and OCSA classmate, recounted several disturbing incidents involving Woodward. In one instance, she told correspondent Tracy Smith, she witnessed her former classmate drawing guns in a notebook during class, adding that Woodward had a reputation of being "a crazy, homophobic, racist guy."
Bernstein went missing on the night of Jan. 2. Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper, Blaze's parents, explained that they did not learn of their son's disappearance until the next morning when he failed to meet his mother for a dentist appointment. Looking through their son's social media accounts for clues, the Bernsteins discovered that he had recently sent his home address to Woodward, whose name they had never heard before.
"The only reason I could think of Sam meeting up with Blaze is because either number one, he wanted to hook up with him, or two, because he was planning to murder him," Rofsky said.
In the aftermath of the disappearance, Smith explained, Woodward was cooperative with police and Bernstein's parents, telling them that he and Bernstein had spent time that night in Borrego Park, where Bernstein disappeared alone after walking down a path into the trees and shrubs.
The community and the police deployed massive search efforts guided by Woodward's information. One week after his disappearance, Smith said, police discovered Bernstein's body in a final search on a rainy night.
"The grief seemed to stretch across Orange County," Smith said in describing the reaction to the killing.
Woodward was arrested soon after the fact. After about a month, ProPublica published a report linking Woodward to the Atomwaffen Division — a neo-Nazi group that celebrated his alleged involvement in the homicide.
Smith spoke with a former member of the hate group who told her that he was familiar with Woodward's virtual presence.
“He killed a Jew. Like, was there a party? No, but like did people joke about it? Yeah. Everyone celebrated him,” the anonymous member said. “Everyone in the hate group this man belonged to. They say they are Nazis. And they rejoiced for one of their own, Sam Woodward.”
Smith asked Bernstein's parents whether they had ever heard of the Atomwaffen Division prior to the murder.
"No. But we should have. Because we're a perfect target for that group," Pepper said. "A perfect target for today's Nazi, just as Blaze's grandma Leah, a Holocaust survivor, was so many years ago. A little Jewish girl forced by Hitler's Nazis to wear a yellow star."
CBS broadcast the episode just two weeks after a man entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and shot 11 members to death. Prior to the episode's release, Susan Zirinsky, senior executive producer of "48 Hours," told the Forward that producers had moved up the air date of the episode in light of the anti-Semitic massacre.
In August, Orange County prosecutors added a sentencing enhancement to the charges against Woodward, officially accusing him of killing Bernstein in a hate crime. Prosecutors presented evidence in a pre-trial hearing in September linking Woodward to Bernstein's death, including a knife with Bernstein's blood on it in Woodward's bedroom.
If found guilty, Woodward could serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
With Gideon Bernstein donning a black shirt emblazoned with the phrase #BlazeItForward, Bernstein's parents told Smith about the various scholarships and charity initiatives that they have been involved with in memory of their son.
“I want to do my piece to repair the world in Blaze's honor and to promote his legacy,” Pepper said.
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