A California man accused of killing his former high school classmate reportedly attended a three-day neo-Nazi camp, according to ProPublica.
Samuel Woodward was charged with murder after California authorities found the slain body of Ivy League college student, Blaze Bernstein, buried in a shallow grave close to Borrego Park in Foothills Ranch on Jan. 9. According to authorities, Blaze was stabbed at least 20 times in what they described as a possible “rage killing.”
At least three people said that Woodward was a member of the Atomwaffen Division. Per its website, Atomwaffen Division is a “Revolutionary National Socialist organization” founded in 2015. According to ProPublica, the organization celebrates infamous criminal “leaders” such as Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler. The group allegedly carries the goal of one day overthrowing the U.S. government through violence.
Sam Woodward, the alleged killer of Blaze Bernstein, with members of Atomwaffen, violent neo-Nazi organization in Texas this past summer. pic.twitter.com/qYCtMpOkJ8
— A.C. Thompson (@ACInvestigates) January 27, 2018
According to sources, including a former member of the group and two of the suspect’s friends, Woodward traveled to Texas in 2016 to take part in the three-day training camp. The former member of the organization said that camp instructors trained attendees on survival skills, how to handle firearms, and hand-to-hand combat. Another source said that Woodward was “proficient” in handling firearms and helped to recruit others in California to join the group.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, law enforcement has not ruled out Blaze’s death resulting from a hate crime.
“We are continuing to investigate, looking through all matters of the communication,”Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said during a press conference earlier this month. “We have an obligation to file charges only if there’s sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. A hate crime of special circumstance allegation requires that level of proof … if and when we find it, we will amend the charges.”
“We would need evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Sam Woodward did the killing because of a group that the victim might have belonged to. We’d have to show that the reason for the murder was substantially for the reason that he was gay.”
Initially, an arrest affidavit read that Woodward met up with 19-year-old Bernstein at the Foothills Ranch Hobby Lobby parking lot on Jan. 2. Prosecutors allege that based on Snapchat conversations, it’s believed that Woodward picked Blaze up from his parent’s Lake Forest home and later that night, stabbed the victim 20 times before burying his body in a shallow grave near Borrego Park. It’s unclear if the pair actually met in the parking lot earlier that day, as Woodward reportedly indicated.
Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania student, was home for the holidays when he was killed. Authorities said Blaze may have been trying to sexually pursue Woodward, a friend he attended high school with.
During initial questioning, police noticed Woodward had scratches on his hands and dirt under his nails, which he explained away by saying he was in a “fight club.” After questioning, authorities kept Woodward under surveillance for two days while they tested DNA evidence.
Woodward is charged with one felony count of murder, along with a sentencing enhancement (aggravating factors) of using a knife to commit the crime. A sentencing enhancement will give the judge the right to increase the defendant’s sentencing, should he be proven guilty. Orange County district attorney’s spokeswoman, Michelle Van Der Linden, indicated that Woodward faces anywhere from 26 years to life behind bars.
[Feature Photo: Blaze Bernstein/Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund]