University of Pennsylvania student found dead in California; death being investigated as a homicide

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (WPVI) -- The body of a University of Pennsylvania student who went missing while home in Southern California on winter break has been found and his death is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said on Wednesday.

Authorities had been searching for 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein for days when his body was found Tuesday afternoon in brush surrounding a neighborhood park in the Foothill Ranch area of the city of Lake Forest, the Orange County sheriff's department said.

Bernstein, who was home visiting his family, was last seen around 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 while entering Borrego Park. Authorities have said witnesses said Bernstein met up with a friend and the two drove there, and he got out of the vehicle and went into the park.

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Penn student remembered in California. Matt O'Donnell reports during Action News Mornings on January 11, 2018.

Search and rescue crews looked for Bernstein for several days, with assistance from drone pilots.

His parents, visibly overcome with emotion, read a statement to reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

"We have just learned the Orange County sheriff's office and coroner's office have just confirmed that our family's worst fears had come true, and they have positively identified our son Blaze's body today," said Blaze's father, Gideon Bernstein.

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Penn student found dead in Calif.; now a homicide case. Sarah Bloomquist reports during Action News at 6pmon January 10, 2018.

Penn sophomore Rachel Prokupek knew Bernstein through Penn Appetit, a campus club for foodies. Bernstein was incoming managing editor of the club's magazine.

"It is very shocking, clearly. And it's very sad for him, for his family. Our hearts go out to them and as a club, we all just found out, so we're doing everything we can to just stay close," said Prokupek.

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Penn student found dead in Calif.; now a homicide case. Sarah Bloomquist reports during Action News at 4pm on January 10, 2018.

Authorities declined to release additional information about Bernstein's cause of death, saying their investigation was ongoing. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.

Bernstein, a sophomore, was planning to major in psychology and later studied medicine.

Bernstein was picked up by a high school friend on Jan. 2 and was heading to meet a third person in the park, said Annee Della Donna, an attorney, and friend of the family.
When Bernstein didn't return, his friend began sending him text messages but did not hear back, she said, adding the location device on his phone eventually stopped working.

"The only thing I can think of is that maybe he was abducted," the Orange County Register reported Bernstein's mother Jeanne saying on Sunday. "I can't figure out why anybody would want to hurt my son."

The University of Pennsylvania sent the following letter to students:
Dear Penn undergraduates,

I am devastated to write you again so soon about the loss of another classmate and friend. I am the mother of two Penn alumni, a grandmother, and your Vice Provost, and I long to share positive, uplifting news about the remarkable Penn community. Yet I regret that I must confirm what you may already have heard via social media: We learned today that the body of Blaze N. Bernstein, a College sophomore, was found Tuesday in California by authorities investigating his disappearance.

Blaze, 19, was from Foothill Ranch, California. He loved the written word. He was the incoming managing editor of Penn Appétit, the student-run food magazine, a copy associate for 34th Street, and wrote opinion columns for the Daily Pennsylvanian. He had not declared a major, but spent his freshman year in the Vagelos Molecular Sciences Program.

I came to know Blaze, and I grieve his passing as I do all student deaths. I realize these losses have the potential to affect many, many members of our Penn family.

A support session will take place at 12 p.m. tomorrow, January 11th, in the Ben Franklin Room, Houston Hall.

The Penn I love and cherish is vibrant, caring, and compassionate. Hug your friends and roommates. Practice self-care and empathy. Celebrate who and what you have on this special campus. Find unity and strength, together. Help is all around you, including at many Penn resources such as:

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 215-898-7021
Penn counseling center for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, providing care and support in times of crisis, on campus and globally, through campus and community partners. Trained clinicians, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Any student can be cared for immediately walking into CAPS or by phone 24/7.

University Chaplain's Office:215-898-8456
Provides pastoral support, informal advising, and counseling to students in need of care and comfort, "to be a shoulder, to be an ear, to be a friend, to be a fellow sojourner, to be an advocate, and a faithful presence." The Chaplain's Office works with faith communities and campus ministers who also provide spiritual support. Students of all faiths are warmly welcomed.

Student Health Service: 215-746-3535

Penn's comprehensive primary care center provides accessible care to nurture all students' health and wellness needs. Services address acute, chronic, and preventative care. SHS also provides comprehensive stress-reduction services.
Student Intervention Services:215-898-6081
SIS colleagues support Penn students in emergencies, including personal, family, and community events. SIS also works closely with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Special Services (in the Division of Public Safety), the 12 Schools of the University, faculty, and other campus partners to support students and families experiencing difficult circumstances.

School Advising and Student Affairs Offices
Students who have academic concerns or who experience a crisis that affects their coursework should talk with a School advisor. School advising and academic affairs officers work closely also with faculty members in each of their schools, and other University partners, to support students who can benefit from assistance.
College of Arts and Sciences: 215-898-6341
School of Engineering and Applied Science: 215-898-7246
School of Nursing: 215-898-6687
Wharton: 215-898-7613

Division of Public Safety HELP Line: 215-898-HELP (215-898-4357)
A 24/7 resource connecting Penn students, staff, faculty, and families with Division of Public Safety staff trained by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), this important service connects Penn community members to other important resources and agencies including all of the resources listed above and other Penn support units.


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