It has been a rough year for me and my fellow peers at the University of Pennsylvania. In just 13 months, nine students tragically lost their lives in a variety of ways from suicide to a plane crash.
Just a week ago, Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, was found dead, stabbed more than 20 times and stashed away in a shallow grave in the brush surrounding Borrego Park in Lake Forest, Calif., his hometown. Police are investigating the death as a homicide and have named Bernstein’s high school acquaintance, Samuel Lincoln Woodward, as the main suspect in the case.
Tragically, news of Bernstein’s death came a mere day after we attended a memorial for freshman William Steinberg, who died in a plane crash while vacationing with his family over winter break. Additionally, a university faculty member, Penn Dental Department chair Ricardo Teles, was also found dead in December which was later determined to be the result of suicide.
And, just in the last day, news broke that a first-year Penn law student died in his dorm room. It has left our student body feeling shocked, scared, and uneasy.
The announcement of a student passing is always met with sadness and a somber ambiance on any campus. The frequency of these announcements at the University of Pennsylvania, however, have covered this normally joyful campus in a continuous dark, ominous cloud of grief. While all death is tragic, this Ivy League school has been pummeled with a string of tragedies that no family, friend, or student body should have to endure.
Students at UPenn are wondering what they signed up for as they didn’t expect to be confronted with so many incidences of death in their four years of college. They say college is supposed to prepare you for the real world, but this is too much.
Bernstein’s death was particularly rattling given that he was believed to be murdered. Penn’s student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, detailed Bernstein as being involved in various student publications and recently being named managing editor of Penn Appétit, the school’s student-run food magazine. He was on the pre-med track, intending to major in psychology. During his first year, he was involved with the Vagelos Scholars Program in the Molecular Life Sciences.
The investigation of Bernstein’s death isn't complete but initial findings seem to suggest his death might have been the result of homophobic rage. The Orange County Register obtained an affidavit where the suspect “told investigators that Blaze kissed him on the lips – and that he pushed the teen away.” Woodward allegedly “clenched his jaw and fists” as he informed investigators while recalling the story, and that “he wanted to tell Blaze to get off of him,” the affidavit states.
Bernstein’s death stains the student population as it begins its spring semester. Unfortunately, these deaths have many at the University of Pennsylvania asking “why us?” as we hope for an end to the tragic death announcements within the Penn family.
Christopher Tremoglie is a Russian and Eastern European Studies major at the University of Pennsylvania.