US teen's murder suspected to be a hate crime

Blaze Bernstein.
Blaze Bernstein. Photo credit: Facebook

Californian authorities have arrested 20-year-old Samuel Lincoln Woodward on suspicion of murdering his friend and classmate.

Evidence obtained by local media alleges the victim was killed because of his sexuality.

Nineteen-year-old Blaze Bernstein had been missing for five days before his body was found in a shallow grave at a park not far from his family home.

He had just returned from the University of Pennsylvania to spend the winter break with his family.

According to documents filed by prosecutors, Mr Bernstein was picked up by Mr Woodward from his family home after a conversation on Snapchat.

Mr Woodward said he wanted to "hang out" and "catch up".

He drove Mr Bernstein to nearby Borrego Park. It is here that authorities allege that the victim was stabbed more than twenty times.

Mr Woodward initially told police he had dropped Mr Bernstein off at the park and then headed to his girlfriend's house, but inconsistencies in his story and the discovery of dirt and blood under his fingernails led police to make an arrest. 

The documents claim during one interview Mr Woodward couldn't remember his girlfriend's last name and didn't know where she lived.

US teen's murder suspected to be a hate crime
Photo credit: Orange County Sheriffs Department

On Wednesday his heartbroken parents Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein spoke to media and said it was possible that their son had been a victim of hate crime.

"Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything," they said.

"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.

"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 a hate crime."

In text message conversations with his friends, Mr Bernstein said that Mr Woodward was about to "hit on me," and "he made me promise not to tell anyone … but I have texted everyone, uh oh,". 

Other text conversations spoke of possible previous encounters between the two. Mr Bernstein told his friends Mr Woodward was "in the closet".

At this stage Mr Woodward hasn't entered a plea, and will remain in jail without bail until a court appearance in February.


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