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Blaze Bernstein, a college student from The University of Pennsylvania, was reported missing after he walked into a California park, and the circumstances of his disappearance are mysterious.
Bernstein, 19, had returned to Foothill Ranch, California for winter break from his studies. Bernstein disappeared at the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Area, and major searches have been launched to find him.
So far, authorities say they don’t think foul play is involved. However, it’s as if the teenager vanished into thin air, and, thus far, drone and other searches have turned up nothing. He disappeared without a trace. Family and friends have launched a major public outreach effort to find him.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Friends & Family Don’t Know Why Bernstein Went Into the Wilderness Area
Compounding the mystery: Friends and family members say they don’t have a clue why Bernstein wanted to go into Whiting Ranch Wilderness Area and Borrego Park in the first place, but he never came back out. “Our son, Blaze Bernstein, has been missing since the late evening of Tuesday January 2nd, 2018. He was last seen at Borrego Park near our home in Foothill Ranch, CA (Lake Forest),” his father, Gideon Bernstein, wrote on Facebook.
He was last seen on Tuesday, January 2, 2018, when he asked a friend to take him to the wilderness area around 11 p.m. The friend stayed in nearby Borrego Park, according to CBS Los Angeles.
“Bernstein’s parents say the friend told them he didn’t know why Bernstein wanted to go there. They didn’t even know he had gone out until the next day when they couldn’t find him,” CBS LA reported. The park is located in Orange County. However, the Orange County Register reported that Blaze and his friend had gone there so Blaze could “meet a third person. The person’s identity and the reason for the meeting wasn’t known.”
A special bulletin from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department calls Blaze a missing person and says, “Blaze Bernstein was last seen at approximately 11 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, entering Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch. Bernstein is in Orange County on winter break from the University of Pennsylvania. Witnesses said he met up with a friend and the two drove to Borrego Park, where the teen exited the vehicle and entered the park. The 19-year-old has not been seen or heard from since.”
People with information are urged to call the Orange County Sheriff’s Department at 714-647-7000 or submit anonymous tips to Crime Stoppers at 855-TIP-OCCS.
2. Bernstein Planned to Study Pre-Med at the University of Pennsylvania & Edited a Food Magazine
According to The Los Angeles Times, Bernstein is a pre-med student at the University of Pennsylvania. The Orange County Register says he is a sophomore “planning to declare a major in psychology with a minor in chemistry” to pursue pre-med.
His father told the Orange County newspaper that Blaze “recently became managing editor of the foodie magazine at the University of Pennsylvania, called Penn Appetit,” and was very excited about the project.
Blaze Bernstein is described as 5 foot 8 inches tall and 130 pounds. He has light brown hair and blue eyes, and he was last seen wearing pants, white Adidas laced tennis shoes, and a charcoal grey long-sleeved top, according to a Facebook page organized to find him.
Blaze’s father wrote on January 7 on that Facebook page, “This is Blaze’s family. We wanted to update you on the ongoing search for Blaze. We are now on the 5th night of Blaze’s disappearance. He was supposed to fly out tomorrow morning back to UPENN in Philadelphia. We know Blaze would have loved to be on that flight back to school.”
3. Bernstein Left Behind His Belongings & Was in ‘Good Spirits’ That Evening
Family members don’t think Bernstein intended to disappear because he left behind key belongings at his parents’ home. “There are so many unknowns to deal with,” family friend Annee Della Donna, told The Los Angeles Times. “We’re talking about a brilliant kid who goes to a small park five minutes from home, then disappears.”
The belongings left behind included “his keys, wallet, credit cards and eyeglasses,” reported The Los Angeles Times, which added that his father told The Times the parents didn’t “even hear him leave.”
“He is considered a missing person,” his father wrote on Facebook. “We believe that he may just be hiding / staying somewhere close by. He was with a high school friend prior to his disappearance and we believe he was planning to come back home that night since he left his wallet and glasses at home. There is no clear motive and he was in good spirits that evening.”
4. The Family Has Started Using Private Drone Searches in a Quest to Find Blaze
Gideon Bernstein has posted lengthy updates on the Facebook page organized to find his son. One described the search efforts that have been underway. The family told The Orange County Register that Blaze has a zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol.
“We still maintain hope that he is out there and that he may be found or re-surface,” the father wrote, saying of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department: “The OCSD is diligently working to help us find him. Today they sent out a large reserve search and rescue unit to comb through Whiting Ranch next to Borrego Park for the second time. They also had a canine sweep which did not come up with anything. In addition the helicopters continued to search in the more dense areas. We are thankful for all of the hard work from the professionals and volunteers.”
Gideon Bernstein added: “We still ask ourselves where is Blaze? If he were here he would have been cooking up a fine dinner with his family and celebrating his nephews birthday. He also was supposed to take his brother out shopping for a new suit today. We know he wouldnt want to miss those events.”
“What’s next?” he continued. “Many folks were asking to help do a search, but frankly the OCSD has done many ground searches through the local area, in addition to helicopters and dogs. We therefore have shifted to working on a private drone search with a team of professional drone operators. We are trying to hit areas that are less accessible by car or people to maximize the use of the drones. Today they covered part of the 133 toll road and Whiting Ranch. Sunday they will be coordinating flights over the remainder of Whiting Ranch. We have had volunteers print out the Sheriff’s bulletin and distribute in their communities. Others have checked hospitals and local shelters. Needless to say we are doing everything we can to get the word out.”
5. Blaze Bernstein Sent a Text Message That Night But His Phone’s Location Device Stopped Working
On Facebook, Blaze’s most recent public post was on December 5, and it was a share of an event where free magazines were being given away. He also recently shared a petition, writing, “HI! PLEASE SIGN MY PETITION TO SUPPORT DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION AT PENN. TY.” The petition urged the university to add “Bahamian Junkanoo” music to the Spring Fling event.
According to The Orange County Register, Blaze “sent a text message at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday with his family’s address so a high school friend could pick him up and take him to the park to meet the third person.” Bernstein walked into the park alone. “Bernstein’s friend eventually began sending text messages to him when he didn’t return, but did not hear back from him… The friend left and then returned at 4 a.m. to look for Bernstein again,” reported The Register.
The newspaper added, “the location device on Bernstein’s phone stopped functioning and the phone was turned off at 11:30 p.m.”