A young man was taken into custody Friday in connection with the death of a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student who went missing and was found dead in a Lake Forest park after a weeklong search.
A Friend And Former Classmate
Orange County sheriff’s officials were expected to give details of the arrest in connection with the killing of Blaze Bernstein at an afternoon news conference. The suspect’s name was not immediately released, but a Bernstein family identified him as 21-year-old Sam Woodward, a friend and former Orange County School for the Arts classmate of Bernstein.
He Allegedly Drove Bernstein To The Park
Bernstein’s parents had never heard of Woodward, said attorney Annee Della Donna. Woodward allegedly drove Bernstein to Borrego Park about 11 p.m. Jan. 2. Bernstein’s body was found at the park Tuesday afternoon.
Video from a pair of local television stations showed the suspect being led into the Orange County jail in handcuffs.
The Friend Said Bernstein “Seemed Depressed”
According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the Orange County Register, Woodward told sheriff’s investigators he drove Bernstein to the park, who got out and walked away. He said he waited about an hour and tried to contact Bernstein on Snapchat. He said he then left around 1 a.m. and drove to his girlfriend’s house in Tustin and then returned to the park at about 3:40 a.m. after Bernstein still had not responded. The friend said Bernstein had complained about his grades in school and “seemed depressed but never said anything about wanting to hurt himself.”
Scratches On His Hands
On Jan. 4, two days after Bernstein disappeared, detectives spoke with Woodward again at Borrego Park and noticed that his hands had several small scratches and abrasions, according to the affidavit obtained by the Register. He said the scratches and abrasions were from a “fight club” that he was involved in.
“Dirt Under The Fingernails”
Investigators also noticed what appeared to be “dirt under the fingernails” on both of the friend’s hands, according to the affidavit. They asked him how his hands got so dirty and the friend said he “fell into a dirt puddle” during the sparring session.
Detectives noticed that he was nervous during the interview and was “breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking.”
His Car Was Searched
At one point, the friend opened the doors to his rental car and allowed two detectives to look inside. The detectives noticed hiking and camping equipment in the rear of the vehicle, a large empty plastic bin on the backseat, and a black belt on the passenger seat floorboard.
Could Not Remember The Name Of His Girlfriend
He agreed to be further interviewed at the sheriff’s headquarters in Santa Ana, where his story “stayed fairly consistent.” But, the affidavit says, while he had told investigators that he went to his girlfriend’s home after he left Bernstein in the park, he said he could not remember her last name and did not know where she lived.
Odd Behavior At The Station
“On their way out of Sheriff’s Headquarters, (investigators) noticed every door (the friend) had to touch on the way out of the building he pulled his jacket over his hand to prevent his hand and fingers from touching any part of the doors he touched.”
Blaze’s Mother Mother Reacts
Bernstein’s mother, Jeanne Pepper, responded to news of the arrest on Twitter, writing, “Finally. My thoughts are: Revenge is empty. It will never bring back my son. My only hopes are that he will never have the opportunity to hurt anyone else again and that something meaningful can come from the senseless act of Blaze’s murder.”