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Missing UPenn Student Vanishes While Visiting Parents In OC

LAKE FOREST (CBSLA) — Orange County Sheriff's detectives and family of a 19-year-old college student who mysteriously went missing Tuesday night in the Foothill Ranch area of Lake Forest released details Friday regarding his disappearance in the hopes that the public can help locate him.

Blaze N. Bernstein
19-year-old Blaze N. Bernstein went missing in Lake Forest, Calif., on Jan. 2, 2018. His body was found on Jan. 9 near Borrego Park. (Credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department)

Blaze N. Bernstein, who was visiting with family on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania, went to Borrego Park that night to meet someone for unknown reasons, said 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 buddy to pick him up and take him to the park to meet the third person, she said.

The park is five minutes away and they got there at 10:30 p.m., the attorney said. Bernstein went off alone into the park while his friend waited back in the car.

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 at 4 a.m. 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 said Friday. "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 Wednesday, his family realized something was wrong.

"Blaze if you hear me, it's OK for you to come home, we love you" his father Gideon Bernstein said.

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

"Blaze, come home, wherever you are,  whatever has happened, we don't care," his mother added. "We just want you here. Find a way home."

Bernstein was described by his family as meticulous, punctual, always returned text messages and has a zero-tolerance policy for drug use.

"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."

The sergeant in charge of the investigation said Bernstein walked into the darkness at Borrego Park -- which is next door to Foothill Ranch Elementary School, which he attended -- and disappeared. A search from the air and on the ground has revealed nothing. Deputies scoured nearby Whiting Ranch park. There were unconfirmed sightings of Blaze on the State Route 241, OCSD said.

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

On Tuesday night, Blaze cooked his family a turkey dinner. He's 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."

His mom Jeanne recalls a recent conversation with her oldest son, asking him to turn on the location services on his phone.  Because he was in school so far away, she wanted a way that she could always find him. The feature however was turned off. The phone is dead, according to the Bernstein's lawyer.

"This is very concerning for us," Gideon told reporters. "We're going on night four now, so we hope he's somewhere safe."

Deputies, family and volunteers resumed the search for Blaze Saturday, with searchers focusing on the Whiting Ranch area.

He is white, 5-foot-8 and weighs 130 pounds. He has blue eyes and brown hair. He was last seen wearing a dark-colored jacket, dark gray long-sleeved zip-up and white Adidas shoes.

Anyone with information was asked to call 714-647-7000. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips 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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