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Body Of Missing OC Teen Found, Death Considered A Homicide

LAKE FOREST (CBSLA) – A 19-year-old college student who went missing last week in the Foothill Ranch area of Lake Forest has been found dead.

The body of Blaze N. Bernstein was discovered during a search effort Tuesday afternoon in some brush adjacent to Borrego Park, the Orange County Sheriff's Department confirmed. His death is being considered a homicide. An autopsy is being performed Wednesday.

Deputies had been scouring Borrego Park and nearby Whiting Ranch Park for days looking for the teen.

A home in Newport Beach was searched by deputies at around 3 a.m. Wednesday in connection with the investigation into the death, KCAL9 confirmed. The details of that search were not immediately known.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Sheriff's Lt. Brad Valentine declined to discuss specifics of the case, noting only that the rain over the past two days contributed to the discovery of the body.

Investigators said Bernstein most likely knew his killer and that the public should not be concerned about a random killer on the loose.

Bernstein, who was visiting with family on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, went to Borrego Park on the night of Jan. 2 to meet someone for unknown reasons, according to Annee Della Donna, an attorney and friend of the family. At 9:30 p.m., he sent a text message with his family's Lake Forest address for a high school friend to pick him up and take him to the park to meet the third person, she said.

The park is five minutes away from Bernstein's home, and they arrived there at 10:30 p.m., the attorney said. Investigators said Bernstein walked into the darkness at Borrego Park — which is next door to Foothill Ranch Elementary School, which he attended — and disappeared. His friend waited back in the car.

"This one I tell you, I do find a little bit odd after speaking with the family," Sheriff's Sgt. Don Vogt said last week. "Blaze isn't someone that wouldn't talk to his parents, wouldn't reach out to them unless he had a reason."

Bernstein's friend eventually began sending text messages to him when he didn't return, but did not hear back from him, she said. The friend left and then returned to look for Bernstein again. Eventually, the location device on Bernstein's phone stopped functioning and the phone was turned off at 11:30 p.m., Donna said.

"He didn't have anything with him," Donna told reporters. "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."

When Bernstein missed a dental appointment on Jan. 3, his family realized something was wrong.

blaze bernstein
Blaze Bernstein, 19, went missing in Lake Forest on Jan. 2, 2018. (credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department)(credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department)

His father, Gideon Bernstein, said his son was a sophomore planning to declare a major in psychology with a minor in chemistry and was "pursuing it with a pre-med focus."

"He left behind his wallet, his glasses. That's not him," Gideon said. "He's a planner. He was intending to come home that night."

On the night of his disappearance, Blaze cooked his family a turkey dinner. He was on the staff of UPenn's student run foodie magazine Penn Appetit.

"He made dinner for the family that night," Donna said. "They had a great evening together. He was excited about going back to college and he was moving to a new apartment. He was on the Internet that night buying things. It all points to a kid who was not depressed, who was happy and wanted to go back to school."

Anyone with information on the case should call O.C. Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS.

(©2018 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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