ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. -- A search warrant obtained by the Orange County Register reveals more details about the account of a friend who was last to see a college student Authorities had been searching for 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein for days when his body was found Tuesday afternoon in brush surrounding a neighborhood park in the Foothill Ranch area of the city of Lake Forest, the Orange County sheriff's department said. The University of Pennsylvania student had been home in California on winter break when he vanished.
Bernstein was last seen around 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 while entering Borrego Park. Authorities have said witnesses said Bernstein met up with the friend and the two drove there, and he got out of the vehicle and went into the park.
The friend said when Bernstein didn't return he sent messages to him, then left and returned hours later to search for him, reported CBS Los Angeles.
At a Wednesday press conference, authorities released few details about what they called an active investigation, other than to confirm they are investigating the death as a homicide, no one is in custody and police believe that Bernstein was likely killed the night he went missing. Brad Valentine, the chief of police services for the City of Lake Forest, also confirmed a search warrant had been executed Tuesday night in the city of Newport Beach, but wouldn't release further information.
The Orange County Register reported new details about the friend's story to investigators Thursday, including that the friend appeared nervous during a police interview and had scratches on his hands and dirt under his fingernails. The paper cited a 16-page search warrant affidavit it obtained, but it's not clear whether the affidavit is related to the Newport Beach search warrant.
According to the affidavit, the friend and Bernstein both attended the same Orange County high school. The friend said he picked up Bernstein and they drove to a parking lot of a Hobby Lobby in Lake Forest Jan. 2 to "hang out" and "catch up," the paper reports.
The friend said Bernstein told him they were going to meet another friend from high school, and they drove to the Borrego Park parking lot shortly before midnight, reports the OC Register. The friend said Bernstein walked by himself into the park. After about an hour, the friend said he tried to contact Bernstein unsuccessfully on SnapChat, then left around 1 a.m. and drove to his girlfriend's house in Tustin.
When Bernstein still hadn't responded around 3:40 a.m., the friend said, he returned to the park around 3:40 a.m. to search for him.
Detectives interviewed the friend two days later and noticed that his hands had several small scratches and abrasions, the paper reports, citing the affidavit. The friend allegedly said the scratches were from a "fight club" he was involved in.
Detectives also noticed he had dirt under his fingernails, the paper reports, and the friend said he "fell into a dirt puddle." The affidavit says the friend was nervous and "breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking," according to the paper.
The friend agreed to an interview at the sheriff's headquarters in Santa Ana, where the affidavit says his story "stayed fairly consistent," though he told detectives he couldn't remember the last name of the girlfriend he said he visited after Bernstein's disappearance and didn't know where she lived.
According to the paper, the affidavit also says that investigators noticed that the friend, while leaving the sheriff's headquarters, "every door (the friend) had to touch on the way out of the building he pulled his jacket over his hand to prevent his hand and fingers from touching any part of the doors he touched."
Valentine said Wednesday police had interviewed the friend who last saw Bernstein multiple times and said he is not in custody. He would not comment as to whether police had identified any suspects or persons of interest.
A sheriff's spokesperson declined to comment on the affidavit to the paper.
Bernstein's parents gave an emotional statement to reporters Wednesday, thanking the sheriff's department and crying as they embraced. Bernstein, a sophomore, was planning to major in psychology and later study medicine, the Orange County Register reported his father Gideon Bernstein saying last week.
On Wednesday, Gideon Bernstein thanked community members through tears for their support in the efforts to find his son.
"Our family is devastated," he told reporters.
for more features.