Blaze Bernstein was such a talented writer that the University of Pennsylvania recruited him.
He remained a passionate writer while he thoughtfully selected science classes that would prepare him for a pre-med program, said his student adviser, Jamie-Lee Josselyn.
Bernstein was “leaning toward” becoming a psychologist, she said Thursday, two days after Bernstein’s body was found in a Southern California park close to where the 19-year-old lived with his family. He was on winter break when he went missing on the night of Jan. 2.
On Wednesday, officials disclosed that he had been killed. On Thursday, friends on both coasts mourned the loss.
Josselyn, associate director for recruitment for creative writing at Penn, called the death of the sophomore with a promising future “confusing.”
Josselyn said she recruited Bernstein when she was visiting his high school in California, and became his adviser to help him maintain his creative writing talents while his academic life focused on science.
Bernstein worked at Kelly Writers House, a center at Penn for creative writers and artists, and was on the editorial board for the Penn Review, the university’s literary magazine. He had a piece published in the Penn Review before he started at the university, Josselyn said, adding that had never been done before.
In a piece about writing titled “Picking Marbles From Dirt” for the Penn Review, he wrote: “I can always go back and edit and tweak what I have written, but it’s those first words that lick the paper that truly determine the story’s ultimate fate.”
“That was Blaze. He was just getting things done,” Josselyn said. “He had a lot of happiness and satisfaction with life and his life at Penn.”
Thursday afternoon, nearly 30 students, faculty, and administrators gathered at Penn’s Houston Hall to honor Bernstein.
“It’s been a painful, heartbreaking time,” university chaplain Chaz Howard said at the gathering. “We love you and we’re here for you.”
Howard was joined by administrators from Hillel and Penn’s university life offices, which offer counseling and crisis intervention services. Those who attended included friends from the writers house, and the student-run food magazine Penn Appétit, where Bernstein had been elected managing editor.
“One of the best things about Penn is the strong sense of communities and the way they overlap,” said Bill Alexander, director of Penn’s psychological services and counseling program. “Strengthen your own communities. I’m sure that’s what Blaze was trying to do.”
Earlier this week, the Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department said Bernstein vanished after he and a friend drove to Borrego Park in the Foothill Ranch area of Lake Forest late on Jan. 2. The department also said the case was being investigated as a homicide, and that no details on cause of death would be immediately released.
On Thursday, the Orange County Register, citing an affidavit it obtained, published new details about what the friend told investigators.
During an interview with detectives on Jan. 4, the friend told investigators they had gone to the park to “hang out.” The friend said Bernstein walked by himself into the park. After about an hour, the friend said, he tried to contact Bernstein unsuccessfully on Snapchat, then left around 1 a.m. and drove to his girlfriend’s house. When Bernstein still hadn’t responded around 3:40 a.m., the friend said, he returned to the park to search for him.
The Register also reported that detectives noticed that the friend’s hands had several small scratches and abrasions, and that he had dirt under his fingernails. The friend allegedly said the scratches were from a “fight club” he was involved in, and that he had fallen into a dirt puddle. The affidavit says the friend was nervous and “breathing heavy, talking fast and visibly shaking,” according to the paper.
The friend also told police that Bernstein complained about his grades in school and “seemed depressed.”
Josselyn, the Penn adviser, said she believes that if Bernstein had he been depressed or concerned about his grades, he would have talked to her about it.
Staff writers Robert Moran and Daniel Spinelli contributed to this article.