Body found in Calif. ID'd as missing Pa. college student; death ruled homicide

LAKE FOREST, Calif. -- The body of a 19-year-old man found in Borrego Park has been identified as missing student Blaze Bernstein, and his death is being investigated as a homicide, according to Orange County sheriff's officials Wednesday.

On Tuesday at approximately 2 p.m., a search of the park in Lake Forest was initiated by sheriff's investigators. Bernstein's body was discovered in the perimeter of the park in the brush, officials said.

Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student, was last seen entering Borrego Park at about 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 by a friend who was with him at the time. He was reported missing by his family the next day.

Approximately 25 members of the sheriff's department's search-and-rescue team surveyed the park and adjacent wilderness area Whiting Ranch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Officials confirmed the case is being investigated as a homicide, and an autopsy will be performed Wednesday. No additional information regarding the cause of death or the condition of the body was immediately released.

Sheriff's investigators are actively following multiple leads, but no suspect is in custody.

A search warrant was served at a home in Newport Beach late Tuesday, Lt. Brad Valentine said, who also added that he believes Bernstein was killed the night he went missing.

Valentine would not describe the condition in which Bernstein's body was found, but he did say that the weather helped the search.

"The rain was definitely a factor to help us find the location," Valentine said.

He also said that Bernstein's friend, who was with him when he was last seen entering Borrego Park, has been questioned multiple times by investigators, and that the sheriff's department is not ready to name a person of interest.

Bernstein's parents also spoke at the news conference, delivering an emotional statement.

"Blaze was a brilliant colorful and charismatic man who shined light on all of the lives in the people and communities that he touched," Gideon Bernstein said of his son, adding that plans are underway for funeral services.

"We have had people do random acts of kindness, and so many friends and family have reached out to us. It's unbelievable what you people have done for us, and our son, and his memory," he said through tears.

He asked that people with tips send information to the OCSD and that those who wish to carry on his son's memory can make a donation to the Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County

"This money will be given to organizations, including the Orange Wood Foundation and other organizations that help children and families in need," he said.

According to a Facebook post by Gideon Bernstein, the teen was scheduled to fly back to Pennsylvania Sunday to return to school. "We know Blaze would have loved to be on that flight back to school," his father wrote.

Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein said that their son left their Lake Forest home that night without a word to either of them.

"I feel like we've explored everything that we could in regard to what happened. But all that we really know is that he ran off into the wilderness and we don't know why," his mother said.

The investigation into this case is active and ongoing. Anyone with information is urged to contact the Orange County Sheriff's Department at (714) 647-7000. Anonymous tips may also be submitted to Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS.
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.