SANTA ANA, Calif. — The Orange County Sheriff’s Department on Friday had a suspect in custody in connection with the death of 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, the University of Pennsylvania sophomore killed last week while home during winter break.
Undersheriff Don Barnes told reporters on Friday that Bernstein was killed by Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach, a high school friend who late on the night of Jan. 2 drove him to a park in the Foothill Ranch area of Lake Forest to “hang out.”
Woodward was the last person to see Bernstein alive, Barnes said, and DNA evidence links him to the crime.
Details of Bernstein’s death aren’t being released, and Barnes said investigators were still trying to determine a motive.
Earlier this week, the Orange County Register, citing an affidavit it had obtained, published details about what Woodward allegedly told investigators during an interview Jan. 4. Woodward told investigators that he and Bernstein drove to the park around 11 p.m., and soon after arriving Bernstein entered the park by himself.
Woodward said that after about an hour he tried to contact Bernstein on Snapchat, but got no response. He said he left around 1 a.m. to go to a girlfriend’s house. When Bernstein still hadn’t responded after a couple of hours, the friend said he returned to the park around 3:40 a.m. to search for him.
The Register also reported that detectives noticed that Woodward’s hands had several small scratches and abrasions, and that he had dirt under his fingernails. The friend said the scratches were from a “fight club” he was involved in, and that he had fallen into a dirt puddle. The affidavit says Woodward was nervous and “breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking,” according to the newspaper. Woodward, according to the affidavit, said he did not remember his girlfriend’s last name or where she lived.
The death rocked the Penn campus and the tight-knit Orange County community where the victim lived. Both Bernstein and Woodward attended the Orange County High School of the Arts, where the victim focused on creative writing.
At Penn, he worked at Kelly Writers House, a center at Penn for creative writers and artists, and was on the editorial board for the Penn Review, the university’s literary magazine, and was managing editor of the student-run food magazine Penn Appétit.
Thursday afternoon, nearly 30 students, faculty, and administrators gathered at Penn’s Houston Hall to honor Bernstein.