Metro Weekly

Murder of gay student in California might be a hate crime, parents say

Samuel Woodward has been charged with the murder of Blaze Bernstein

Blaze Bernstein — Photo: Instagram

“If it is determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of hate crime.”

Gideon and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, parents of 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein, in a statement after their son was found murdered in Borrego Park, California.

Samuel Lincoln Woodward, 20, has been charged with a felony count of murder, with the enhancement of personal use of a knife.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Bernstein was stabbed at least 20 times and buried in a shallow grave, while Woodward had “abrasions, scratches and dirt on his hands,” according to the Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

“This is a senseless murder of a young man who possessed a combination of a high-caliber mind and the heart of a poet,” Rackauckas said.

According to an affidavit, Bernstein had texted two female friends last year, telling them he thought Woodward was romantically interested in him, saying he was going to “hit on me” and “made me promise not to tell anyone,” the Associated Press reports.

Bernstein was reported missing on Jan. 3. Woodward had picked Bernstein up in his car the night before, Jan. 2. They proceeded to drive around the area before eventually ending up at Borrego Park.

Woodward told investigators that Bernstein had kissed him, with Woodward pushing him away before they went to the park.

Prosecutors are now investigating whether the murder constitutes a hate crime, according to Rackauckas.

“Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything,” the Bernsteins said in their statement. “We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at