Mother of Slain UPenn Student: ‘I Lost the Most Precious Gift'

Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein want to channel their energy toward creating a legacy for their son who loved life

The parents of a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student found stabbed and buried in a California park want to turn their tragedy into a movement in the hopes that others feel inspired to do good.

"I don’t know why were tasked with this, with losing our child, but I told Jeanne that I want to make the best of this,” Gideon Bernstein, Blaze's father, said in a "Today" show interview Thursday.

Samuel Woodward, 20, was charged Wednesday with killing 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein with a knife, prosecutors said, while the college sophomore was visiting his parents on winter break.

Bernstein's parents suggested in a statement earlier this week that the killing may have been a hate crime against their gay son. According to a court filing obtained by The Orange County Register, Woodward told investigators that he became angry after Bernstein kissed him the night they went to the park.

Asked about the possibility of a hate crime of charge, Blaze's mother, Jeanne Bernstein, told NBC's Natalie Morales that talking about it "is not going to help anything."

"And if we talk about these things now, then this young man will not get a fair trial and I want that for all of us," Jeanne Bernstein said, adding that the family is not focused on potential motives but in making a difference moving forward.

She continued, "We celebrated him, everything about him. We wanted him to feel like he could be open about every part of his life. We wanted him to naturally get to a comfortable place. And he was getting there. He was on his way."

Gideon and Jeanne Bernstein want to channel their energy toward creating a legacy for their son who loved life.

The couple launched the hashtag #DoGoodForBlaze, which encourages people to help one another in their son’s memory. Many on social media have shared their acts of kindness in honor of Blaze.

"This is a story of hope for the future that has come from a tragedy that no one would wish on their worst enemy," Gideon Bernstein said.

The Bernsteins said they are overwhelmed by the support they have received from their community and from strangers around the country. Jeanne Bernstein said the large turnout at recent memorial service "reminds me that people are good. And people really do care about each other."

Meanwhile, District Attorney Tony Rackauckus said at a news conference Wednesday that his office has not ruled out a hate crime charge against Woodward, but that investigators are still “looking for that evidence.”

If convicted of murder and an allegation he used a deadly weapon, Woodward could face as much as 26 years to life in prison.

The district attorney said the two young men had both attended the Orange County School of the Arts but he did not know if they were friends at the time.

Woodward communicated with Bernstein via Snapchat on Jan. 2 and then picked him up in a vehicle, District Attorney Tony Rackauckus said at a news conference Wednesday. Bernstein's parents reported him missing the following day.

Authorities searched for nearly a week with help from drone pilots. His body was found in brush surrounding the park after rains partially exposed it.

"I lost my son. I lost the most precious gift," Jeanne Bernstein said in the "Today" interview.

The time and place of the killing remained under investigation. Investigators said Woodward had abrasions, scratches and dirt on his hands and was seen during surveillance cleaning his vehicle, Rackauckus said.

The district attorney also said Bernstein's DNA was found on property held by Woodward but would not provide additional details.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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