LAKE FOREST, CA — The body of Blaze Bernstein, the University of Pennsylvania student who went missing while home on winter break in California, has been found, and his death is being investigated as a homicide, according to police.
Authorities confirmed on Wednesday that they had positively identified the body found Tuesday afternoon in brush in the perimeter of Borrego Park as Bernstein, the Orange County sheriff’s department said in a statement. The 19-year-old had been missing since January 2.
At around 10:30 P.M., Bernstein left the home with a high school friend to meet a third person in the park, according to Annee Della Donna, an attorney and a friend of the family. Bernstein left for the park, which is located in the Foothill Ranch area of the city of Lake Forest, without his keys, wallet, eye glasses, or medication, according to his family.
He was last seen at around 11 P.M., at which time the friend claimed that Bernstein got out of the vehicle and walked into the park. When he did not come back — and failed to respond to text messages — his friend came back at 4 A.M. to look for him, but told police that he could not find him.
Later that night, Bernstein’s phone stopped working.
“Based on what we know, I believe that Blaze was probably killed that night,” Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Brad Valentine said at a news conference when asked by a reporter if he believed that Bernstein’s body had been the park the entire time. Valentine said that he could not comment on the condition of the body, but stated that the recent rain storm had “helped” them find Bernstein.
Law enforcement had launched a massive manhunt for the college sophomore for the past several days.
Authorities declined to release information about the cause of death, saying their investigation was ongoing, but police say that they believe that the death was a homicide — and hope that the autopsy will provide more answers.
According to police, they have interviewed the friend who drove Bernstein to the park numerous times, and at this time are not ready to name a person of interest.
“There is no suspect in custody, and we don’t feel that there is a direct threat to the community at this time,” Valentine said, adding that the department would continue to patrol the parks “as resources are available.”
Police say they are investigating multiple leads including surveillance camera footage, and ask anyone with information to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
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Main photo: Blaze Bernstein [OCSD]