The already-tragic case of a murdered college student has taken an even darker turn after investigative journalists turned up information about the suspect's ties with a neo-Nazi group.
California resident Samuel Woodward stands charged with allegedly murdering a 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania student, Blaze Bernstein, whose body was found partially buried at Borrego Park in Orange County.
Woodward was accused of visiting the crime scene days after the murder. He was also accused of cleaning up the car he reportedly used to pick Bernstein up the night of the crime.
A detailed report by ProPublica brought more light to the case and revealed Woodward’s disturbing connection with a neo-Nazi group. The report cited three anonymous sources that revealed Woodward was from the Atomwaffen (German for atomic weapon) Division, an armed fascist group that aims to remove the U.S. government from its position with the help of terrorism and guerrilla warfare.
Two of the sources were friends with the suspect and the third one was a former member of the neo-Nazi group. They reported Woodward joined the extremist group in 2016. They also obtained pictures of the suspect at a three-day training camp in Texas.
According to the pictures, Woodward was purportedly training with the hate group. He received instruction in firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and camping and survival skills. The organization celebrated Adolf Hitler and murderous cult leader Charles Manson and was reportedly involved in four other cases of murder.
Brandon Russell, who was also a part of the neo-Nazi group, was arrested in May 2017 for possessing bomb-making materials and was sentenced to five years in prison earlier in January.
According to one of the sources, Woodward was skilled in the usage of handguns and assault rifles.
Journalist Jake Hanrah, who worked on Propublica’s special report, tweeted images of the suspect doing the Nazi salute while wearing a mask.
I'm working on an investigation into the alleged neo-Nazi murderer Sam Woodward & his membership to Atomwaffen Division for @ProPublica, with @awinston & @ACInvestigates. Here's our first piece: https://t.co/EmNvEKstSs pic.twitter.com/okfW2PeTqq— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) January 27, 2018
According to social media posts shared by the journalist, Woodward thinks of himself as a “national socialist.”
A few people (who wish to remain anonymous) who knew Sam, recently told me that he was a long time neo-Nazi. One of them showed me a message from Sam where he says, referring to himself, "being an American NS"--NS being National Socialist. pic.twitter.com/TosSNUCto7— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) January 21, 2018
Bernstein's mother, Jeanne Pepper Bernstein, said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times that she worried he would be targeted over one or more of his identities.
"I'm concerned about the fact that he is Jewish. I'm concerned with the fact that he is gay or the fact that he is small," she said. "I was concerned for his safety always. I was concerned sending him out into the big world. But at some point you have to let go and they leave the nest and fly. I couldn't protect him from everything."
If Woodward is convicted of the charges, he faces 26 years in prison. His arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 2 and he has not yet entered a plea.
Thumbnail/Banner Image: Twitter, Orange County Sheriff Department