19 year old pre-med student Blaze Bernstein went missing from Foothill Ranch, California on the 2nd of January 2018. Bernstein had returned to his hometown during winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, when he walked into a park in California, never to emerge again. The following day his worried parents reported him missing to the orange county sheriff’s office and missing peoples posters describing their son and his last know whereabouts began to circulate on social media.
"Last seen around 11 pm. on Jan. 2nd at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA." The poster read. "Blaze Bernstein is 19 years old, 5"8 and 130lbs, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was wearing pants, white Adidas laced tennis shoes, and a charcoal grey long-sleeved top."
On the night that he went missing, Bernstein left his parents residence without saying so much as goodbye. Along with a friend, he went to meet an unidentified third person in Lake Forest, Borrego Park, at around 9:30pm. According to the OC register, the park was only 10 minutes on foot from Bernstein’s family home. An hour and a half later, he was said to have wandered off alone and neglected to return. This would be the last time anyone would see the teenager alive. He was unable to be reached via his cellphone around an hour after he disappeared, the media reports imply the phone was switched off.
Blaze didn’t appear to have taken any personal items with him that would indicate he had planned to run away. In fact his glasses, keys and wallet (with credit cards) were all found in his room.
Five days later, on the day that he was scheduled to fly back to Pennsylvania to resume his studies, there was still no sign of Blaze Bernstein. He had been swallowed up by nature never to be seen again.
The 19 year old enjoyed hiking, a memorial page dedicated to him talks about his hiking adventures, and his love of art, music and literature. His family nicknamed him “renaissance man” on account of his interests. It’s no surprise to learn that he studied at Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana.
After the teen had been reported missing, local police and volunteers began to search the park and the surrounding area. By 2 in the afternoon on the 9th of January, officers discovered the body of a young man in shrub land in Borrego Park. Recent rainfall had caused the earth concealing the body to slide away, allowing them to find it. Tragically the body was identified as that of Blaze Bernstein.
On the 13th of January the Orange county sheriff’s department released a document on Twitter, announcing the arrest of a suspect in what they consider the homicide of Bernstein. The suspect was 20 year old Samuel Lincoln Woodward, an old high school friend of the victim. They had attended Orange County School of the Arts together and Woodward nervously told police that the two had reconnected over the snap chat app and organized to meet at the park. Between breathing heavily and shaking he told them that when he parked his car, Blaze jumped out and walked ahead into the forest and didn’t come out again.
After hanging around for an hour and repeatedly attempting to connect with Blaze via Snap chat message, he gave up and left for a girlfriend’s house in Tustin, around 13 miles away, which would work out as a 15 minute car ride. He was only able to give the first name of the girl and admitted to investigators that he had returned to the park during the early hours of the morning (around 3am) to see if Bernstein had resurfaced. He had not.
Strangely, he would not gave the address of the girlfriend he claimed to meet to police and claimed he didn't remember, which lead them to feel as if he was not fully cooperating in the investigation, although he did allow them to look in his car.
Police noted the dirt under his finger nails which he explained away by saying that he was a member of an underground fight club, hence the small abrasions on his hands and fingers. While at the police station, officers noticed that he was very careful not to touch anything, even going as far as to pull the sleeves of his jacket down over his hands when opening doors. This, I imagine, he did to prevent leaving any prints.
Woodward claims that the victim requested a ride to the park so that he would meet with an unidentified individual. According to the OC register this individual was said to be a high school friend, however, it’s unclear whether or not there ever was a third person involved.
When looking at the suspects social media, investigators were met with posts about firearms and pictures of Woodward with the southern flag, arguing how it wasn’t a symbol of racism in the comments section.
I wanted to find out more information about Sam Woodward, but the Facebook profile I’ve seen screen shots from seems to have been taken down. There does exist what seems to be another, possibly older profile, but it has no information on it.
A Reddit subreddit, r/mytheoryis, has a post with various comments by people who allegedly know the victim and suspect (read it HERE)
User Wizard117 commented the following:
“I went to high school with Blaze and the friend who drove him. My friends and I think we know who the driver is. He was known to be an all-around weird dude, and was super conservative. He was also known around school to be secretly gay, and acted homophobic probably because he was ashamed of himself. In the past, he discreetly tried to hook up with another gay guy, and was extremely angry when he was rejected by him. I am guessing that Blaze rejected him too. We found his address last night and drove by it and we saw a news van parked outside of his house. I am not going to name names because I don't want to start a witch hunt just in case he is innocent but we are fairly certain that this person is involved in the murder.
EDIT: Our predictions were true, Sam Woodward was the suspect that we were suspicious of. Let's hope he stays behind bars for a loooooooong time.”
Police don’t have a motive for the crime at the moment, but the users theory sounds plausible.
They have announced, however, that they found DNA at the scene that links Samuel Lincoln Woodward to the crime.
In a tweet, Blaze Bernstein’s mother announced that she was not looking for revenge, only justice, to see her son's murderer locked away where he can’t hurt anybody else.