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Hundreds gather at Orange County synagogue to mourn slain college student Blaze Bernstein

Hundreds gather at Orange County synagogue to mourn slain college student Blaze Bernstein
Mourners gather outside after attending a memorial service Monday for Blaze Bernstein at University Synagogue in Irvine. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Blaze Bernstein was on winter break and visiting his parents in Lake Forest when they proudly explained that his namesake was Blaise Pascal, the 17th-century child prodigy who went on to become a mathematician, inventor and master of prose.

The 19-year-old pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania flashed a shy smile when they added, "We expect great things from you, too," according to a website the family created in his memory.

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A few hours later, Bernstein left the house without saying goodbye. He was reported missing the next day by his family, who became concerned after he didn't show up for a dental appointment.

On Friday, three days after his body was found in a shallow grave in an Orange County park, detectives said they had arrested Samuel Lincoln Woodward, a 20-year-old high school classmate of Bernstein's, in the slaying. The Orange County coroner's office said Monday that the cause of death remains under investigation.

Bernstein had been stabbed more than 20 times, and detectives are probing whether the killing was an act of rage, the Orange County Register reported Monday, citing a search warrant affidavit. Authorities said the document has been placed under seal as of Monday night.

The affidavit also said Woodward told investigators that Bernstein kissed him on the lips, but Woodward pushed him away, the newspaper reported.

Woodward is to be arraigned in Superior Court this week.

At the University Synagogue in Irvine on Monday, Rabbi Arnold Rachlis led more than 500 people in a tribute to Bernstein.

Rachlis' voice quivered with emotion as he launched the 90-minute service with these words: "We are gathered here today because this is a death that we never expected and still find hard to believe."

Bernstein was eulogized as a personable, sensitive and innovative young man whose passion for gourmet cooking and writing intersected in his work as a managing editor of Penn Appetit, a student-run food magazine.

"I can't help but think how Blaze's name is a verb — and not just any verb, but one that means to burn fiercely and brightly," said Jamie-Lee Josselyn, who was among Bernstein's creative writing instructors at Penn.

In an interview later, she added, "What we see here is a tremendous amount of potential that was not allowed to fully materialize, and that has lit a fire in the hearts of thousands."

Authorities said Bernstein left behind personal belongings, including his keys, wallet and eyeglasses, when he left his parents' home to see a friend around 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 2.

During the memorial, Gideon Bernstein, Blaze's father, addressed his son this way: "You were like a young pony just getting into a steady gallop, with your face to the wind and so looking forward to what was coming next.

"Blaze, I know you didn't like the spotlight," he said, gazing out at the crowd, "but you'd be amazed at all the good things being done in your honor here today."

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Twitter: @LouisSahagun

UPDATES:

8:05 p.m.: This article was updated with information from the Orange County Register about a search warrant affidavit.

This article was originally published at 5:50 p.m.

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