The last time Blaze Bernstein’s parents saw their son, he was enjoying his Christmas break and eagerly planning for his next semester at college. Then he went to a local park with a friend and vanished.
As CBS Los Angeles reports, the 19-year-old from Lake Forest, California, was days away from flying back to University of Pennsylvania to resume his studies. He had recently become the managing editor of the college’s food magazine and had big plans for the coming year.
On Tuesday, January 2, Blaze cooked dinner for his family, then went with a friend to Borrego Park, a small local park just a few minutes away from his home in the Foothill Ranch community. According to the Los Angeles Times, the friend said he used the restroom at the park, but when he came out, Blaze had disappeared. (However, according to other media reports, the friend stayed in the car while Blaze went into the park and vanished.)
Family friend Annee Della Donna told NBC Los Angeles that Blaze and his friend got to the park around 10:30 that evening. When Blaze didn’t come back, his friend began texting him, but got no response. The friend then left, but came back at about 4 a.m. to look for Blaze again.
Meanwhile, Blaze’s family didn’t even know their son wasn’t at home. Father Gideon told NBC Los Angeles:
“After dinner, everyone took off and as far as we knew, he was up in his room. We didn’t even really know he was gone until the next day. We figured he slept in.”
It wasn’t until the next afternoon — when Blaze missed a dental appointment — that his family realized he was missing. When calls went unanswered and Blaze’s phone appeared to be off, they became concerned and began searching for the missing teen.
The search expanded to the wilderness area adjoining the park, as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office launched a search and rescue mission to find Blaze. According to Fox 5 News, a friend helped the family by using drones to take thermal and HD images of the park area in hopes of finding a clue to Blaze’s whereabouts.
Blaze’s family says there’s nothing that indicates that he intended to be away from home for long. In the video below, his mother told CBS Los Angeles that the fact that her son left without telling them — even leaving behind vital items — indicated he intended to return soon:
“The fact that he didn’t tell us he was going out tells us he wasn’t planning to be gone very long. And he left behind his wallet, ID, money, glasses and medications he takes every day.”
Gideon said Blaze had been, “in good spirits,” that night at dinner and had been making plans for the future of the campus food magazine. Della Donna told NBC Los Angeles:
“They had a great evening together. He was excited about going back to college and he was moving to a new apartment. He was on the Internet that night buying things. It all points to a kid who was not depressed, who was happy and wanted to go back to school.”
After nearly a week of searching in the park and wilderness area, authorities ended rescue operations there. However, a representative of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office told the Daily Pennsylvanian the investigation into Blaze’s disappearance is still active:
“Although that specific search and rescue effort in that specific area has ended does not mean the search for Blaze has ended. [This case] will continue to be actively a missing person’s case investigation until they find something that will lead them otherwise, and up until this point, everything that we have found is still leading us towards a missing person’s case.”
The family has set up a Facebook group to organize volunteer search efforts. They still don’t understand where Blaze might have gone that night or why. As Della Donna told the L.A. Times:
“There are so many unknowns to deal with. We’re talking about a brilliant kid who goes to a small park five minutes from home, then disappears.”
Blaze is approximately five-foot-eight and 130 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was last seen wearing a dark jacket, dark grey long-sleeved shirt, and white Adidas. Anyone with information about his whereabouts or disappearance is urged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 714-647-7000.