I’ve always been drawn to books and television programs that feature true crime cases. I regularly record Dateline, Forty Eight Hours, and 20/20. I don’t watch them until I am performing some tedious task around the house like ironing. Then I fill the boredom with mysteries of murder and intrigue. Most of the episodes are somewhat similar in nature, and I have learned how to use my detective skills to put together the clues and determine whodunit. Once in a great while one of the features is different in nature, and it pulls on my emotions to the point of tears. Such was a recent Forty Eight Hours that told of a young man named Blaze Bernstein who was viciously stabbed to death.
Blaze was a happy and incredibly talented young man who lived in southern California with this loving and devoted parents. He was considered to be brilliant by both his teachers and his friends. His talents ran the gamut but it was writing that truly showcased his creativity. He also enjoyed cooking and being with and helping people. He was one of those young people who seemed to be heading for greatness when his life was so viciously ended.
At the same time that Blaze was impressing everyone that he met with his goodness and his potential, another young man was following a different path. He went to the same high school as Blaze but that is where the similarities end. This boy was filled with anger and hate. He became known for racist remarks that included vandalizing a copy of Raisin In the Sun with scribbles of the “N” word throughout. He drew pictures of guns and war, and made his classmates so uncomfortable that they whispered that he had the markings of a school shooter. Unfortunately nobody felt comfortable voicing any of their discomfort aloud. Eventually the hateful kid transferred to a different school, but everyone remembered the fear that he had engendered in them.
Blaze went on the an ivy league college where he was almost immediately a stand out student. After his first semester he returned home for the winter break, and all seemed well. Blaze of course was Jewish, and he had come out as gay, but none of that mattered to those who loved him, and they were many. During the break he got a message from the disturbed young man who had once been a fellow classmate. Without telling anyone where he was going, Blaze agreed to a meeting in a local park. He never came home.
Were it not for an unusually strong rainfall Blaze’s body might never have been found. He was buried under a tree in the park and a passerby noticed a muddy mound that seemed unnatural. Blaze’s body showed evidence of a raging knife attack. In the meantime, Blaze’s parents had done a bit of sleuthing and found a message on his computer indicating his intent to meet the former classmate in the park. When detectives descended on the suspect’s home they found a bloody knife with Blaze’s blood still on it, as well as blood in the perpetrator’s car.
The murder alone was so horrific that I cried several times during the episode, but even more frightening was that the killer had been a member of a neo-Nazi group called Atom Waffen that has chapters all over the United States. The goal of this organization is to literally destroy the United States of America. They celebrated Blaze’s death as a glorious victory with the double benefit of eliminating both a Jew and a gay man. The members are so violent that they consider the Alt Right to be a group of cowards who are not willing to bring about the level of anarchy needed to cleanse the world of all sorts of people who are undesirable in their minds. Most troubling is that they are gaining traction particularly with young white male teens who feel part of something important for the first time in their lives in joining ranks.
We all need to be fully aware that such groups exist, and we need to do our best to find ways to eliminate them. Nonetheless, Blaze’s parents have embarked on a positive and loving pathway to bringing tolerance into more hearts. They have established a foundation called Blaze It Forward in honor of their son. The goal is to encourage people to perform acts of kindness and to donate to causes that help people. They have been able to provide college scholarships and work with young people who feel disengaged. They have channeled their sorrow into love, and in the process have brought great meaning to Blaze’s short life in spite of his death.
I sobbed when I witnessed the courage and grace of Blaze’s parents, and found myself thinking once again of the importance of each of us working systematically to stoke the fires of compassion, acceptance and goodness in every corner of the world. We need to continually model the behaviors that we wish to see, and be on the watch for the wounded souls among us. I suspect that Blaze was such a good person that he may have agreed to meet his killer in the hopes of somehow changing his murder’s tortured soul. It was just the sort of thing that he was prone to do. His parents have followed his lead and focus their healing on good works. It’s something that we should all consider doing. At the same time we must speak out against hate groups and make everyone aware of their dangerous agendas. Complacency is one of our worst enemies that will only lead to more violence.