Suspect in slaying says student was hitting on him, police say
SANTA ANA, Calif. — A man suspected in the killing of a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student who was stabbed nearly two dozen times and buried in a shallow grave at a California park told investigators that he was being hit on, a newspaper reported.
Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, was arrested Friday on suspicion of homicide after DNA evidence linked him to the death of Blaze Bernstein, Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes said. The two knew each other from high school, he said.
The Orange County Register reported that Blaze Bernstein was stabbed more than 20 times. No weapon has been found.
Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department, would not confirm to The Associated Press if Bernstein was stabbed but said “the condition of the body at the time it was discovered turned it from a missing person to a homicide immediately.”
Bernstein may have been planning to sexually pursue Woodward, according to a 16-page search warrant affidavit obtained by The Orange County Register.
Bernstein texted two female friends about a June interaction with Woodward, according to the document. Bernstein wrote that Woodward was about to “hit on me” and “he made me promise not to tell anyone.”
Bernstein was visiting his family in the community of Lake Forest, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, during winter break. Woodward picked him up on Jan. 2 and drove with him to several places before they wound up at a park, authorities said.
The document said Woodward told investigators that Bernstein kissed him on the lips at a stop before the park and that he pushed Bernstein away.
As he recounted that part of his story, Woodward clenched his jaw and his fists, saying “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him,” investigators wrote.
Woodward was interviewed by authorities after Bernstein was reported missing by his parents on Jan. 3.
A sheriff’s investigator wrote in court filings that Woodward appeared nervous, had scratched hands and dirt under his fingernails, and avoided touching doors with his hands while leaving the sheriff’s office building.
Woodward also told investigators that Bernstein walked into the park alone and that he waited for an hour before driving to meet with a girlfriend, the newspaper reported.
He told investigators that he returned to the park to look for Bernstein hours later. However, Woodward could not remember his girlfriend’s last name or where she lived, according to the affidavit.
It was not immediately possible to reach Woodward in custody, where he listed his occupation as “Nerf games,” according to the jail’s website.
Authorities searched for Bernstein for nearly a week with assistance from drone pilots and found his body Jan. 9 after recent rains partially exposed it.
The death rocked the community, where hundreds of people held a candlelight vigil to remember him. It was the only homicide reported in Lake Forest in at least the past four years, authorities said.