Missing Calif. student Blaze Bernstein found dead, case investigated as homicide

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – A 19-year-old college student who went missing last week has been found dead, reports CBS Los Angeles. Blaze Bernstein's body was discovered during a search Tuesday afternoon in brush near Lake Forest's Borrego Park, the Orange County Sheriff's Department confirmed.

Authorities are investigating Bernstein's death as a homicide. An autopsy is being performed Wednesday.

Deputies had been scouring Borrego Park and nearby Whiting Ranch Park for days looking for Bernstein, who vanished Jan 2.

"Based on what we know, I believe Blaze was probably killed that night," said Lt. Brad Valentine, the chief of police services for the City of Lake Forest, at a Wednesday press conference.

Valentine gave few other details on what he described as an active investigation during the press conference, but confirmed a search warrant had been executed Tuesday night in the city of Newport Beach. No suspects are in custody, Valentine said.

Bernstein's parents gave an emotional statement to reporters, thanking the sheriff's department and crying as they embraced.

Bernstein, who was visiting with family on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, went to the park the night of Jan. 2 to meet an unknown person for unknown reasons, said Annee Della Donna, an attorney and friend of the family. Earlier that night he had texted a friend asking for a ride to the park in order to have the meeting, she said.

The attorney said Bernstein and the friend arrived around 10:30 p.m., and Bernstein went off alone into the park. The friend said he waited behind in the car.

The friend later said when Bernstein didn't return he sent text massages to him, according to Della Donna. The friend said he left and returned hours later to search for Bernstein.

"He didn't have anything with him," Della Donna said Friday in an interview with CBS Los Angeles. "He didn't have his glasses or his medication. He didn't bring his wallet or a phone charger. I don't think he planned on this being a long trip and he just disappeared."

Investigators have interviewed the friend several times, and he is not in custody, Valentine said.

Valentine wouldn't speak to whether police have identified any suspects or persons of interest, but said no suspect is in custody.  Valentine didn't give more details about the Newport Beach search warrant.

Valentine wouldn't comment on the condition of the body but said that recent rains helped in locating the remains. Valentine said he hoped the autopsy would provide investigators with more clues.

In an interview with CBS Los Angeles, Bernstein's parents pointed to the left behind items as evidence that the teen planned on coming home that night.

"The fact that he didn't tell us he was going out tells us that he wasn't planning to be gone very long," said his mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein.

The family realized Bernstein might be missing the next morning when he missed a dentist appointment.

A cause of death remains unknown.

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