LAKE FOREST, Calif. — The body of a University of Pennsylvania student who went missing while home in Southern California on winter break has been found at a park 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.
Search and rescue crews looked for Bernstein for several days, with assistance from drone pilots.
Authorities declined to release additional information about the cause of Bernstein’s death, but Lt. Brad Valentine said he believes Bernstein was killed the night he went missing.
It was the only homicide reported in the city 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles in at least four years, Valentine said.
Valentine said recent rains in California helped authorities locate Bernstein’s body but he declined to say how.
He said the investigation is ongoing and authorities searched a home late Tuesday in the affluent seaside community of Newport Beach, which is about 18 miles (29 km) from Lake Forest.
Bernstein, a sophomore, was planning to major in psychology and later study medicine, the Orange County Register reported his father Gideon Bernstein saying last week.
On Wednesday, Gideon Bernstein thanked community members through tears for their support in the efforts to find his son.
“Our family is devastated,” he told reporters.
Bernstein was picked up by a high school friend on Jan. 2 and was heading to meet a third person in the park, Annee Della Donna, an attorney and friend of the family, told the newspaper. When Bernstein didn’t return, his friend began sending him text messages but didn’t 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 newspaper reported Bernstein’s mother Jeanne saying on Sunday. “I can’t figure out why anybody would want to hurt my son.”