The man accused of brutally stabbing to death openly gay 19-year-old University of Pennsylvania pre-med student Blaze Bernstein over the holiday break in Orange County, Calif., reportedly after the victim "hit on him," has been revealed to be a neo-Nazi with ties to several extremist groups, according to ProPublica.
California native Samuel Woodward, 20, who was a high school of the victim, said when speaking with police following the discovery of Bernstein's body in a shallow grave in Borrego Park that he pushed the victim away when Bernstein tried to kiss him.
Woodward has been arrested and he will be arraigned on Feb. 2, although he has yet to enter a plea. Prosecutors have said that Woodward stabbed Bernstein more than 20 times and that they are investigating the increasing possibility that the murder was a hate crime. Bernstein was both gay and Jewish.
According to two of Woodward's friends and a member of an alt-right group who knows him, the accused was a member of Atomwaffen Division, a fascist group that idolizes Adolph Hitler and Charles Manson and embraces swastikas, SS symbols, and the Totenkopf (death head's insignia) as its identifying symbols.
Woodward, who is proficient with handguns and rifles, according to one friend, allegedly joined the group in 2016. Photos ProPublica obtained depict Woodward and other Atomwaffen members giving the full Nazi salute while wearing skull masks, although he is fully visible in other pictures.
Following Bernstein's murder, his parents spoke out in solidarity with LGBT people.
"Our son was a beautiful gentle soul who we loved more than anything. We were proud of everything he did and who he was. He had nothing to hide. We are in solidarity with our son and the LGBTQ community," Gideon Bernstein and Jeanne Pepper Bernstein wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times. "...If it is determined that this was a hate crime, we will cry not only for our son, but for LGBTQ people everywhere that live in fear or who have been victims of [a] hate crime."
Atomwaffen Division has been tied to a bomb plot and to four other murders in the past eight months, according to ProPublica. If found guilty of Bernstein's murder, Woodward could face 26 years to life.