A high school classmate of dead 19-year-old college student Blaze Bernstein has been named as a suspect in his alleged murder.
Bernstein went missing on June 2 after going to a local park, Borrego Park, near his parents’ southern California home, where he was visiting while on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania. His body was found buried in a shallow grave in the park a week later.
Samuel Woodward, 20, was taken into custody on Friday afternoon for the alleged murder. Woodward is reported to be the friend who drove Bernstein to the park to meet up with another friend. They were former classmates at the Orange County School of the Arts.
Orange County law enforcement have not said what weapon was used to kill Bernstein, nor what condition the body was in when it was found, ABC Los Angeles reported. Woodward’s alleged motive also has not been disclosed. Woodward has been tied to Bernstein’s death by DNA evidence, according to Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes, who spoke to reporters.
Following the arrest, Bernstein’s family posted a public message on a Facebook page that had been dedicated to finding him and now is dedicated to remembering him.
The message said: “In the midst of the Bernstein family’s grief, we are enormously grateful to local law enforcement and the countless volunteers for finding Blaze and ensuring that his killer is brought to justice.
The Bernstein family lights Shabbat candles in his memory.
“Words cannot express how grateful the family is to their community – here in Orange County and around the world, for expressing their love and support. Blaze wanted to make the world a better place. With his death, a great light has been extinguished and we encourage you to continue to shine his light, through Acts of Loving Kindness.
“We will continue to seek justice for Blaze, his family and our community. By honoring Blaze’s memory, you will help make this world a better place,” the message concluded.
An indictment is expected to be handed down on Tuesday.
The dead teen’s mother also reacted to the announcement that her son’s former classmate had been arrested in his killing, tweeting: “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. Now Do Good for Blaze Bernstein.”
The CBS Los Angeles affiliate reported Friday night that Woodward had posted disturbing messages on social media sites. On one site, he defended the Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol of Southern pride and not hate and on another when asked what two things he would want if stranded on a deserted island he said: “The Bible and a Colt .45.”
He also said that if he could learn a new skill it would be waterboarding. When asked about cloning, he replied according to CBS: “Just one of me in the world is already bad enough.”
Do something good – honor my son’s memory. Make a donation to the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund that is custodied by the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County at https://t.co/xrkRKZsLDf Donations will be used to help children and families in need.
— Jeanne Pepper (@bernsteinmom) January 12, 2018
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, mother of the deceased student, tweeted, “Finally,” after hearing of the arrest. She told The Times, “I would just say that we are grateful for the fine men and women in the [Sheriff’s Department] who have worked tirelessly to get answers for our family, our community and the world.
“Nothing will bring back my son, so we ask the world to please honor Blaze’s memory by doing an act of kindness today. Don’t wait, do it now. Celebrate the goodness that still exists in this world in spite of these acts of senseless evil. People are good and Blaze knew that,” she said. “Honor yourselves and him.”
The kindness of strangers astounds me. These beautiful stones were placed all around a tree near where my son Blaze’s body was found. I know people are good. The world is still a good place. pic.twitter.com/gEjwN01zku
— Jeanne Pepper (@bernsteinmom) January 13, 2018
In an earlier interview, Bernstein said that her 14-year-old daughter, Beaue, was heartbroken over her brother’s death.
“They were very close this past year,” she said. “He really started to enjoy her and her antics. She looked up to him.”
Bernstein’s funeral will be held on Monday afternoon.