Samuel Woodward, the high school friend who said he drove college student Blaze Bernstein to the park where Bernstein disappeared, is now accused in Bernstein’s murder, according to Los Angeles news reports.
The disappearance of the University of Pennsylvania student was mysterious for days as it was reported that Blaze walked into the California park and simply did not return. Searches – including with drones – initially turned up nothing and Bernstein’s family took to social media in a public effort to find out what happened to their son, who was intending to study pre-med in Pennsylvania and edited a food magazine on campus.
Then came the tragic news that Bernstein’s body was discovered in brush and police were investigating the case as a homicide. And, on January 12, 2018, Woodward stood accused in the death of the promising teen.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Woodward & Bernstein Attended a School of the Arts Together
Woodward was arrested on January 12, 2018, only three days after authorities revealed that they had found Blaze’s body. The 20-year-old “was taken into custody Friday shortly after leaving his home in Newport Beach,” The Los Angeles Daily News reported, quoting a source.
The newspaper identified Woodward as the friend who had previously revealed he drove Bernstein to the park where Bernstein initially vanished. “Woodward had told homicide investigators that he drove Bernstein to Borrego Ranch Park on Jan. 2, the night Bernstein disappeared,” the site reported. The Orange County Register also confirmed the name.
The Los Angeles Times, also quoting a source, identified Woodward as the suspect accused but gave his age as 21, writing, “A law enforcement source not authorized to discuss the investigation named the man detained as Samuel Woodward, 21, of Newport Beach.”
The Daily News added that Bernstein and Woodward attended high school together, reporting, “Bernstein and the arrested man had attended the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana at the same time at one point.”
2. Bernstein’s Mother Responded That ‘Revenge Is Empty’
The news of the arrest sparked an emotional tweet from Blaze Bernstein’s heartbroken mother. Blaze’s father had been front and center in public efforts to keep attention on his son’s disappearance.
“Finally,” wrote Jeanne Pepper on Twitter. “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. Now Do Good for Blaze Bernstein.”
Police confirmed an arrest in the case.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, “Around 1:15 p.m., two sheriff’s investigators brought the handcuffed man to the Orange County Jail. He had on a sweatshirt that read, ‘Keep the peace.’”
3. Family & Friends Launched a Massive Effort to Find Blaze Bernstein
Blaze Bernstein’s “body was found Tuesday afternoon (January 9) in brush surrounding a neighborhood park in the Foothill Ranch area of the city of Lake Forest,” reported ABC 6. According to the news station, authorities have not released a cause of death or other details, but they were investigating the case as a homicide.
Friends and family members have said they don’t have a clue why Bernstein wanted to go into Whiting Ranch Wilderness Area and Borrego Park in the first place, but he never came back out. “Our son, Blaze Bernstein, has been missing since the late evening of Tuesday January 2nd, 2018. He was last seen at Borrego Park near our home in Foothill Ranch, CA (Lake Forest),” his father wrote previously on Facebook.
Blaze had asked a friend to take him to the wilderness area around 11 p.m. The friend – who has not been publicly named – stayed in nearby Borrego Park, according to CBS Los Angeles. That friend was Woodward.
4. Woodward Was Accused of Having Dirt Under His Fingernails & Hand Abrasions
#MISSING: Blaze Bernstein, 19, is a @Penn student who went missing Tuesday 1/2. His parents say he left the house without his glasses, wallet, ID & phone charger. He went to #BorregoPark late at night and hasn’t been seen since. Anyone with info is urged to contact @OCSD. Share! pic.twitter.com/NFXOkyy5Qm
According to The Orange County Register, the “high-school classmate who reportedly was the last known person to see him alive appeared nervous when interviewed by detectives.” The Register obtained a search warrant affidavit in the case. It alleges that the friend, “who attended Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana with Bernstein, told detectives that he spoke with him on SnapChat that night. He agreed to pick up Bernstein and they drove to the parking lot of a Hobby Lobby in Lake Forest to ‘hang out’ and ‘catch up.’”
The warrant said the friend claimed that Bernstein was going to meet with another friend and walked into the park alone, and the friend allegedly said he drove to his girlfriend’s house but couldn’t provide her name.
The friend allegedly had “dirt under the fingernails,” which he blamed on falling into a dirt puddle and had scratches and abrasions on his hands that he attributed to being in a “fight club,” according to The Orange County Register. He allegedly seemed nervous, “breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking,” The Register reported.
5. Bernstein Edited a Food Magazine on Campus & Wanted to Study Medicine
According to The Los Angeles Times, Bernstein was a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania. The Orange County Register says he was a sophomore “planning to declare a major in psychology with a minor in chemistry” to pursue pre-med.
His father told the Orange County Register that Blaze “recently became managing editor of the foodie magazine at the University of Pennsylvania, called Penn Appetit” and was very excited about the project.
Blaze Bernstein’s family described him as brilliant and colorful in social media messages.
“We have just learned that the OC Sheriff’s Dept and Coroner’s office has confirmed our family’s worst fears and have positively identified our son Blaze’s body,” Blaze’s father, Gideon Bernstein, said in a family statement posted on Facebook shortly after Bernstein’s body was found.
“Blaze was brilliant, colorful, and charismatic; who shined light on all of the lives of the people and communities he touched. Our family is devastated by the news. We – like so many of you around the world – love Blaze and wanted nothing more than his safe return.”