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UPenn Student's Death In California Being Investigated As Homicide

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (CBS/AP) — The body of a University of Pennsylvania student who went missing while home in Southern California on winter break has been found and his death is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said on Wednesday.

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 in a statement.

Bernstein, who was home visiting his family, was last seen around 11 p.m. on Jan. 2 while entering Borrego Park. Authorities have said witnesses said Bernstein met up with a friend and the two drove there, and he got out of the vehicle and went into the park.

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Search and rescue crews looked for Bernstein for several days, with assistance from drone pilots.

Authorities declined to release additional information about Bernstein cause death, saying their investigation was ongoing. An autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.

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.

"He left behind his wallet, his glasses that's not him," Gideon Bernstein told CBS Los Angeles. "He's a planner. He was intending to come home that night."

During a news conference on Wednesday, he called his son a "colorful and charismatic man."

"They have positively identified our son Blaze's body today. Blaze was a brilliant, colorful and charismatic man who shined  alight on all of the communities that he touched," said Bernstein. "Needless to say, our family is devastated by the news. We, like so many around the world, love Blaze and we wanted nothing more than to seek his safe return."

Bernstein was picked up by a high school friend on Jan. 2 and was heading to meet a third person in the park, said Annee Della Donna, an attorney and friend of the family.

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When Bernstein didn't return, his friend began sending him text messages but did not hear back, she said, adding the location device on his phone eventually stopped working.

"The only thing I can think of is that maybe he was abducted," the newspaper reported Bernstein's mother Jeanne saying on Sunday. "I can't figure out why anybody would want to hurt my son."

The university said in a statement that they are "devastated" over Blaze Bernstein's death.

"He loved the written word. He was the incoming managing editor of Penn Appétit, the student-run food magazine, a copy associate for 34th Street, and wrote opinion columns for the Daily Pennsylvanian. He had not declared a major, but spent his freshman year in the Vagelos Molecular Sciences Program," the university said.

The university will have a support sessions at 12 p.m. on Thursday in the Ben Franklin Room, Houston Hall.

Students were back in class on UPenn's campus today.

Orange County authorities say they interviewed someone about the crime, but would not say anything about a suspect or person of interest.

(TM and © Copyright 2018 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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