How his death has impacted Orange County and beyond – Orange County Register

On Jan. 10, 2018, Orange County Sheriff’s Division investigators discovered 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein’s physique in a shallow grave close to Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch.

Officers decided he had been stabbed 20 occasions, killed in an act of rage. Bernstein was homosexual and Jewish, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.

And for many of 2018, a yr that noticed a surge in anti-Semitic hate crimes together with the Pittsburgh synagogue capturing that left 11 lifeless, and hate incidents towards members of the LGBT group, Bernstein’s killing turned a reference level for members of each communities who felt focused in such an setting.

The Orange County District Lawyer in August filed a hate crime cost towards Samuel Woodward, 20, the person accused of killing Bernstein. Prosecutors level to a mountain of proof displaying Woodward was a member of Atomwaffen Division, a violent hate group that promoted, amongst different types of hate, anti-Semitism and homophobia.

A yr later, Bernstein’s mother and father, Gideon and Jeanne, say all they need to see are acts of affection and kindness carried out within the identify of their first-born.

  • The mother and father of Blaze Bernstein, Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Berstein, face the one-year anniversary of their sons’ homicide. Photographed in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, January eight, 2019. (Photograph by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Painted rocks encompass a memorial tree that was planted for Blaze Bernstein at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. Bernstein’s physique was present in a shallow grave simply outdoors the park on January 9, 2018. (Photograph by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Painted rocks encompass a memorial tree that was planted for Blaze Bernstein at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. Bernstein’s physique was present in a shallow grave simply outdoors the park on January 9, 2018. (Photograph by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Painted rocks encompass a memorial tree that was planted for Blaze Bernstein at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. Bernstein’s physique was present in a shallow grave simply outdoors the park on January 9, 2018. (Photograph by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Picnic tables sit close to a memorial tree that was planted for Blaze Bernstein at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA. Bernstein’s physique was present in a shallow grave simply outdoors the park on January 9, 2018. (Photograph by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The mother and father of Blaze Bernstein, Jeanne Pepper and Gideon Berstein, face the one-year anniversary of their sons’ homicide. Photographed in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, January eight, 2019. (Photograph by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Their Fb Web page “Blaze it Forward” has greater than 22,000 members. This web page has turn into a refuge of types for individuals who search acts of kindness and those that need to carry out such acts.

One lady posted on the web page saying she paid an aged lady’s grocery invoice on the grocery store “in honor of Blaze.” One other stated somebody paid for her meals at In-N-Out and she did the identical and “Blazed it forward.” Yet one more man stated he was going to get a “Blaze it forward” tattoo.

“We wanted to take our tragic situation and use our platform to encourage people to perform acts of kindness instead of dwelling on what happened to us,” Jeanne Bernstein stated.

Her husband stated his household has acquired a “big, giant, global bear hug from people from all walks of life.”

“In a time when we lost control over our lives and momentarily lost hope in humanity, this massive, positive community response has given us hope that we can make a difference,” he stated.

Backdrop of worry

Bernstein’s killing dealt an enormous blow to the LGBT and Jewish communities in Southern California, whilst officers have been making an attempt to pinpoint a motive.

Through the preliminary investigation, they tried to attach the dots between the incident, Bernstein’s faith and sexual orientation, and Woodward’s membership in a neo-Nazi hate group whose heroes are Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson and Timothy McVeigh.

Samuel Woodward, 20, was taken into custody Friday, Jan 12, 2018 by Sheriff’s investigators in reference to the death of Blaze Bernstein. (File Photograph by Ken Steinhardt, Orange County Register/SCNG)

The killing and its chilling circumstances helped make clear the “silence around being gay,” stated Laura Kanter, director of coverage, advocacy and youth packages on the LGBT Middle OC in Santa Ana.

“I feel like there’s still not enough attention given to discussing the conditions that led to Blaze’s murder,” she stated. “What are we doing to help LGBT youth feel like they don’t have to hide and they can feel safe in their own communities?”

During the last yr, Kanter has been concerned in breaking conservative Christian teams’ resistance to intercourse schooling curriculum that’s inclusive of LGBT college students.

“We’re still having this battle over sex ed and there are still people trying to fight reducing shame, stigma and bullying of LGBT folks,” she stated. “Isn’t that what led to Blaze’s homicide?

“Blaze wasn’t murdered because he was gay. He was murdered because of hate and homophobia.”

Bernstein’s killing deepened considerations over surging anti-Semitism within the Jewish group, stated Wendy Arenson, government director of the Jewish Group Basis of Orange County. Gideon Bernstein is chair of the group’s board of administrators.

“Our families have been friends for years,” she stated. “We took trips together, played board games and had dinners together. We don’t know if Blaze was killed because he was Jewish. But, his murder has left members of our community deeply concerned, especially in light of the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in Southern California and nationwide.”

“Blaze wasn’t murdered because he was gay. He was murdered because of hate and homophobia.” 

Arenson stated her household lit an additional candle for Bernstein the Friday night time, on Sabbath, the week Blaze disappeared.

“We’ve continued lighting that candle for Blaze every week,” she stated. “It’s our way of recognizing that he is with us in spirit.”

She calls the Bernsteins “kind, phenomenal people.”

“I look at them as role models,” Arenson stated. “To take such a horrible tragedy, to go beyond your personal grief and send out a positive message to the world – is simply astounding to me.”

‘It was a hate crime’

Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein say they consider their son’s killing was a hate crime.

“The man accused of the crime was anti-Semitic, anti-gay,” Jeanne Bernstein stated, including that her son’s homicide introduced notoriety to the hate group to which Woodward belonged.

Hate crime specialists who tracked social media within the days and weeks after Bernstein’s homicide and Woodward’s arrests noticed neo-Nazis’ messages of celebration congratulating Woodward for killing an individual who was each homosexual and Jewish.

Painted rocks encompass a memorial tree that was planted for Blaze Bernstein at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. Bernstein’s physique was present in a shallow grave simply outdoors the park on January 9, 2018. (Photograph by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Jeanne Bernstein says she will’t overlook the 2 phrases she noticed posted on social media by a neo-Nazi group member mocking her son’s homicide: “LOL OC.”

She says she nonetheless will get trolled by neo-Nazis on Instagram.

“It’s disappointing, and it tells me there are not enough consequences for this type of behavior,” she stated. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Jeanne and Gideon Bernstein say seeing individuals carry out acts of kindness in Blaze’s identify and watching the Blaze it Ahead motion develop continues to provide them consolation.

By way of this social media web page, they’ve witnessed certainly one of Blaze’s former classmates from the Orange County Faculty of the Arts come out to his mother and father as a homosexual man. His mother and father wrote to the Bernsteins that this modified their household dynamic for the higher.

“We have a lot of work to do.” 

Others see a necessity and fill it. One lady contacted a sufferer of home violence who had posted on the Fb web page and took the household looking for furnishings and a brand new pc.

These acts of kindness they witness each day, the Bernsteins say, have given them consolation and the chance to flee the truth of their circumstances.

Memorials

Group members have additionally created a memorial of types for Bernstein. Final yr, the town of Lake Forest, as a part of its “Expand the Forest” program, labored with the household to plant a tree at Borrego Park the place Bernstein’s physique was discovered.

The world across the tree has been left open for group members to put stones memorializing Bernstein.

Painted rocks encompass a memorial tree that was planted for Blaze Bernstein at Borrego Park in Foothill Ranch, CA on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. Bernstein’s physique was present in a shallow grave simply outdoors the park on January 9, 2018. (Photograph by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“People are creating works of art with these rocks,” Jeanne Bernstein stated. “There are so many of these stones, so colorful, so beautiful. Every one of those rocks represents someone who cares about us, my son and what happened. It tells me that people are good, people care and they want to reach out.”

The couple has additionally devoted time to their two different youngsters, Blaze’s brother and sister.

“We’ve actually done more traveling in the last year so we don’t dwell on the past,” stated Gideon Bernstein, including that they only returned from a visit to Spain. “We want to continue to live our lives. We want to distract ourselves with positive things.”

And that’s why the Bernsteins say they don’t go to courtroom hearings.

“We’ll help the D.A. in any way we can and we will be in court when we have to be,” Gideon Bernstein stated. “But, personally, I don’t feel like that’s the best use of my time.”

For now they’re wanting ahead to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which they’re dedicating as “Blaze it Forward Day,” committing to a day of service in reminiscence of their son.

Blaze Bernstein was buried on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, final January.

SCNG employees author Jeong Park contributed to this report.

 

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