Body of missing college student found near Orange County park


Shortly after Jeanne Pepper Bernstein got word Wednesday morning that her 19-year-old son’s body had been found and that Orange County sheriff’s officials were investigating the case as a homicide, her daughter discovered a note in her brother’s belongings.

Beaue, 14, handed it to her mother. With tears in her eyes, she urged her to read the note.

It was a letter Bernstein had written to Blaze on day one of 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 September 21, 2004.


Fourteen years later, the teenager was found right next to the school, his mother said.

“So much irony and tragedy here,” she said.

Blaze Bernstein, a pre-med college student who was visiting his family in Lake Forest during winter break, was last seen around 11 p.m. Jan. 2 entering Borrego Park.

Search crews looked for Bernstein for several days.

Carrie Braun, Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said the condition of the body leads detectives to believe his death was the result of a homicide.

Braun acknowledged that a search warrant was served at a Newport Beach residence Tuesday night in connection with the homicide investigation but said investigators would release no more details on the case at this time.

Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student, left home with only his cellphone. The device ceased tracking around the time he entered the park where his body would eventually be found. He had gone to the park with a friend and was apparently also meeting a third person.

Braun would not comment on the role of those individuals in the investigation.

On Wednesday, Bernstein’s father, Gideon, read a statement at a news conference.

“Our family is devastated by the news,” he said. “We, like so many of you around the world, love Blaze and wanted nothing more than his safe return.”



5 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with new reporting.

11:30 a.m.: This article was updated with quotes from family members and additional comments by authorities.

This article was originally published at 11:15 a.m.