My Son, Blaze Bernstein, Was Murdered. Then Came the Outpouring of Love
By Jeanne Pepper
Originally published in Forward 2/1/18
Is it possible to know how you will act when thrust into an existentialist crisis? Will you stand up to the challenge, or fall to the ground in a puddle of fears and devastation? Will you rise with courage and purpose and fight for life, for love, for resolution knowing that even with your last dying breath you may never have the answers you need?
Unfortunately, I found out earlier this year how I would react, when my husband and I were forced to deal with the disappearance and murder of our brilliant, sweet, hardworking, and successful 19-year-old son, Blaze Bernstein. This life-altering event changed not only our lives but the lives of thousands of people around the world who came to know us through our tragedy and our call to action.
My son disappeared from our family home in Lake Forest, California on January 2. Immediately, we began doing anything we could to draw attention to Blaze’s disappearance. We asked everyone we knew to circulate posters of his face and his story, everywhere. We had no idea where he was or why he was missing. Maybe he had been injured and was still alive somewhere?
As his face circulated through the internet, our contacts were kind enough to ask local celebrities such as Kobe Bryant and Charlie Puth to shout out to their fan bases on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Local media also spread the word that our son was missing and asked the public to help us find him.
During those dark days, we worked tirelessly, clinging to hope, and looking for answers. Privately, our friends jumped into help. They volunteered to cook every meal, organize our garage, handle the press, fix our technology problems, you name it – a friend was there to offer the tools and expertise to help us. Friends showed up unannounced with bagels, flowers, beautiful cards and coffee, massages, chiropractic adjustments, puppies, and hugs. Distant family, some not seen in over ten years, showed up from as far away at New York City to offer us their extraordinary skills and time.
We were overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and kindness. It was hard to believe this was happening, and that we had the world supporting us.
In the days before Blaze’s body was discovered, as this monumental tragedy was breaking down our door, we were approached by friends and strangers alike asking if there was anything they could do to help. We were so overwhelmed that my husband Gideon posted on our Help Us Find Blaze Bernstein Facebook group a simple plea: instead of helping us, people should donate to the Orangewood Foundation, a local charity that helps children in need.
Soon after, so many people wanted to contribute online that the server at Orangewood crashed. That was one technology problem that the charity was happy about. And in a strange twist, our miserable situation would now help children in need. We felt good.
The next day, when I learned that my son’s body was discovered in a shallow grave a mile from our family home, the roar of this Jewish mother could have been heard around the world. But we redirected our grief to create The Blaze Bernstein Memorial Fund. The Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County was asked to take custody of an account for donations made to the memorial fund that would be used to support organizations that Blaze would have liked and to help children and families in need. My husband has been a volunteer chairman of the foundation board for almost 10 years and was in a unique position to make this happen. The best way to help us heal was to do good in the world.
As this began to unfold we realized that we had an opportunity to set an example for people everywhere. To show them how even in the face of tragedy and loss, there is something better to concentrate on rather than bitterness, revenge, self-pity, and regret. We wanted people to embrace love, tolerance, and kindness; to do good. Our goal was to repair our broken world one child at time, one kind act at a time, one day at time.
For us specifically, we decided to use the platform we were given as Blaze’s parents to fulfill his destiny to make the world a better place. My husband likes to say that doing good is not just a moment, it is a movement. I hope our efforts will move people to understand the importance of doing good daily. It must be a group effort.