Three days after the body of a missing teenager was found buried in a shallow grave in an Orange County park, detectives announced Friday that they had arrested a former high school classmate in the slaying.
Nineteen-year-old Blaze Bernstein was reported missing Jan. 3 by his family, who became concerned after he didn’t show up for a dental appointment and they found his wallet and glasses in his room. He was on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania and visiting his parents in Lake Forest when he disappeared.
Detectives used his Snapchat account to identify a friend who had picked him up the night before, said Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes. That friend told investigators that he had left Bernstein after he walked off by himself in Borrego Park, Barnes said.
But Barnes said investigators found inconsistencies in what Samuel Lincoln Woodward said.
A search warrant affidavit, obtained by the Orange County Register, said that Woodward 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, Woodward 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.
Barnes said DNA results led to the arrest of Woodward, 20, on suspicion of homicide. He was under surveillance and was taken into custody after leaving his house about 1:15 p.m. Friday.
Barnes said both Bernstein and Woodward had attended the same high school, identified in the warrant as the Orange County School of the Arts. Barnes said the motive in the case was unknown and declined to discuss the condition of Bernstein’s body, which was found after rain runoff exposed part of the remains.
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.”
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.”
A woman who spoke from behind the door Thursday at Woodward’s home in Newport Beach said she had no comment.
“I would appreciate it if you would respect my privacy,” she said.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas called the killing a “very tragic case,” adding that “by all accounts, both of these families are good people whose lives have been turned upside down in a terrible way.”
“They are both in grieving situations,” Rackauckas said.