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Investigators are testing evidence for DNA in the killing of an Orange County man

Investigators are testing evidence for DNA in the killing of an Orange County man
A flyer posted by the Orange County Sheriff Department asking for help finding missing 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein. Bernstein's body was later found in a park. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Detectives investigating the killing of a 19-year-old Ivy League student whose body was found in an Orange County park are running forensic evidence gathered at the scene for DNA to help identify a potential suspect, law enforcement sources said Thursday.

A search warrant affidavit in connection with the investigation of Blaze Bernstein's homicide has also raised questions about the account of a friend who was the last person to see the University of Pennsylvania student.

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The friend told detectives he dropped off Bernstein in a Foothill Ranch park shortly before midnight Jan. 2. The warrant, obtained by the Orange County Register, said that the friend had scratches and abrasions on his hands and dirty fingernails and that he said he could not recall the last name or address of a girlfriend he visited after dropping off Bernstein.

When asked about the abrasions by detectives, the young man said that they were from a "fight club" he participated in and that his fingernails were dirty because he fell into a "dirt puddle" during sparring.

The friend had attended the Orange County School for the Performing Arts with Bernstein.

Jeanne Pepper Bernstein and Gideon Bernstein, parents of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein.
Jeanne Pepper Bernstein and Gideon Bernstein, parents of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

The warrant served at a Newport Beach home was sealed from public view Wednesday, Orange County court officials said. Carrie Braun, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman, said detectives have obtained three search warrants in connection with the investigation.

She said the department was not identifying a person of interest and would not discuss the evidence cited in the search warrant affidavit. Braun declined to release any details of an autopsy conducted Wednesday. Authorities have not released information about how Bernstein was killed.

Two sources familiar with the investigation said that DNA evidence from Bernstein's body and the crime scene was being given a rapid examination for potential suspects. Bernstein was on winter break from college and visiting his parents in Lake Forest when he disappeared.

Bernstein's family declined to be interviewed Thursday, with his mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, saying she needed time to mourn her son.

Soon after she delivered the news of his death to her daughter Beaue early Wednesday, the mother said, the girl went through a scrapbook and discovered a letter Jeanne Pepper Bernstein had written to her son on the first day of school when he was in first grade.

"My stomach clenches a little bit at thinking of my tiny little boy (all 46 inches) walking to class by himself, but I know you'll make it to Room 16 when I leave you at the curb of Foothill Ranch Elementary School," she wrote on Sept. 21, 2004.

Bernstein's body was found next to the school, his mother said.

Jeanne Pepper Bernstein said Beaue, 14, is heartbroken over her brother's death.

"They were very close this past year," she said in an earlier interview. "He really started to enjoy her and her antics. She looked up to him."

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