Court files: Virginia man punched neighbor before killing 3 relatives

CHATHAM, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man appears to have used a .30-30 rifle and a sledgehammer in a deadly rampage that claimed the lives of a minor league baseball player’s wife, 1-year-old son and mother-in-law, according to court documents released Thursday.

The criminal complaint filed against Matthew Bernard, 18, said that police found two victims with visible gunshot wounds to the head as well as rifle shell casings near all three bodies.

The rifle was found in a wooded area behind the house, while a sledgehammer was located in the garage with blood, the court documents stated.

The criminal complaint offered new details — but no motive — for a trio of killings and an intense manhunt on Tuesday that stunned a tiny town in southern Virginia as well as the American baseball community.

One of the victims was married to Blake Bivens, a 24-year-old pitcher for Alabama’s Montgomery Biscuits, a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Blake Bivens’ wife was Emily Bivens. The other two victims are Cullen Bivens, their son, and Joan Bernard, Emily Bivens’ mother.

Matthew Bernard is Emily Bivens’ brother and Joan Bernard’s son. He faces three counts of murder and related charges. He is being held without bail in Pittsylvania County, which is near Danville.

According to the criminal complaint, Bernard’s rampage began at a neighbor’s house when he came to her home, punched her in the arm and then ran away.

The neighbor then heard multiple gunshots at the house next door, police said. The neighbor then drove to the house and encountered a body in the driveway.

An intense manhunt ensued, involving as many as 100 officers. Schools were locked down. A tank and an armored vehicle were brought in to Keeling, an unincorporated community near the North Carolina border.

Authorities said Bernard emerged naked from some woods hours later, running past TV cameras to a church parking lot, where he was recorded trying to choke a church caretaker.

An officer unleashed pepper spray and smacked Bernard with a baton before he was captured, officials said.

Bernard banged his head against the cage in a police vehicle after being taken into custody and was taken to a hospital for treatment, police said. He was released and was in jail Wednesday, where he was being kept on suicide watch, police said.

News of the slayings had prompted the Biscuits to cancel their scheduled doubleheader Tuesday.

“All we can do is kind of put our arms around (Bivens) as an organization, him and his family, and do the best we can,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday.

A vigil was held at The River Church in Danville, Virginia, Wednesday night. Senior pastor Jackie Poe led those in attendance in prayer for the Bivens and Bernard families.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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