Samuel Woodward is charged with murder in the killing 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein, a University of Pennsylvania student who went missing this month while visiting his family in Orange County. Prosecutors say Woodward stabbed Bernstein 20 times and then buried his body in a Lake Forest park, where it was found days later.
Bernstein was Jewish and gay, and police are investigating his killing as a possible hate crime.
Woodward is scheduled to be arraigned in Orange County Superior Court on Friday.
Relying on “three people with detailed knowledge of Woodward’s recent past,” the investigative news website ProPublica said Woodward was a member of the group Atomwaffen — which has been tied to other killings and a bomb plot in recent months — and traveled to Texas to attend the group’s three-day training camp.
Group members at the camp were trained in firearms and hand-to-hand combat, a former Atomwaffen member told ProPublica. The individual, who watched Woodward shoot at the camp, described him as skilled in handling handguns and assault rifles. ProPublica said it obtained photos of Woodward and other group members “making straight-armed Nazi salutes while wearing skull masks.”
Atomwaffen’s commitment to violence makes it more dangerous than other groups that have emerged from the recent wave of white supremacists, according to experts on right-wing extremism quoted by the news site. And unlike other new white nationalist groups, Atomwaffen embraces Nazi imagery and openly celebrates Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson.
The group was estimated to have about 80 members, but its ranks have grown since the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year, the former member told ProPublica.
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