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January 11, 2018

Friend last seen with Penn student appeared nervous in police interview, affidavit says

Investigations Homicide
01072018_Blaze_Bernstein_OCSD Source/Ocean County Sheriff's Department

Blaze Bernstein is seen in a family photo released by the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

A friend of University of Pennsylvania student, Blaze Bernstein, who was found dead in a southern California park on Tuesday, appeared visibly shaken while being interviewed by detectives, according to a search warrant.

Bernstein's death is being investigated as a homicide, officials have said. There have been no arrests.

The 16-page warrant filed by a sheriff's investigator and obtained by the Orange County Register states Bernstein's friend was "breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking." 

The friend also had what looked like "dirt under the fingernails" on both of his hands and, during a follow-up interview at the sheriff's headquarters, took measures to avoid touching any doors in the office with his hands or fingers, the newspaper reported.

“On their way out of Sheriff’s Headquarters, (investigators) noticed 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,” the affidavit stated, according to the report.

The search warrant revealed more details about the account of the friend and former classmate of Bernstein's.

Bernstein, 19, went missing overnight on Jan. 2 after he and the friend reportedly had met up that night and later drove to Borrego Park, near Bernstein's parents' home in Foothill Ranch, roughly 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles. He had been in Orange County on winter break.

A spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department told PhillyVoice that the affidavit is still under seal.

According to the Orange County Register, the friend said Bernstein had told him they were going to meet up with another friend from high school, and they arrived at the park shortly before midnight on Jan. 2. 

The friend, who is believed to be the last person to see the Penn student alive, then said Bernstein left the vehicle and walked by himself into the park, never to return. 

He waited for about an hour and tried to contact Bernstein, the newspaper reported, and he told investigators that he then left the park around 1 a.m., drove to a girlfriend's house before returning to the park at about 3:40 a.m. after Bernstein had not yet responded.

In one interview, the friend could not recall his girlfriend's last name, the Register reported. 

It also states that while speaking to the friend at Borrego Park on Jan. 4, detectives noticed his hands had several small scratches and abrasions. These were from a "fight club" he was involved in, according to the report.

When asked why he had dirt under his fingernails, the friend reportedly told police he "fell into a dirt puddle." 

After the sheriff's department announced on Wednesday it had found and identified Bernstein's body, his parents thanked investigators in an emotional statement to reporters. Bernstein had planned to major in psychology at Penn and later study medicine.

Bernstein's disappearance became a national story as word began to spread through news reports and on social media. Several celebrities, including Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik and Lakers legends Kobe Bryant and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, posted about the case as Bernstein's whereabouts were still unknown to the public.