Virginia man charged with murdering the family of a Rays prospect

Matthew Bernard (left) attacked a church groundskeeper after police attempted to take him into custody.
Matthew Bernard (left) attacked a church groundskeeper after police attempted to take him into custody.Caleb Ayers/Danville Register & Bee via AP/Danville Register & Bee via AP

CHATHAM, Va. — The wife, son, and mother-in-law of a minor league baseball pitcher are dead and a relative has been charged with three counts of murder in a tiny community in southern Virginia.

Authorities said Matthew Thomas Bernard, 18, was arrested after police warned of a dangerous gunman on the loose upon finding the bodies Tuesday morning at a home in Keeling.

Tracie Cooper of the state medical examiner’s officer in Roanoke identified the dead as Emily Marie Bivens, Cullen Bivens, and Joan Bernard, Emily’s mother.

Emily Bivens was married to Blake Bivens, a 24-year-old pitcher for Alabama’s Montgomery Biscuits, a Double A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays in Florida. Cullen Bivens was the couple’s 1-year-old son.


During an intense manhunt involving up to 100 officers, schools were locked down and a tank and armored vehicle were brought in to Keeling, an unincorporated community of about 1,200 people near the North Carolina border.

Authorities said Bernard emerged naked and unarmed from the woods about four hours later, running past cameras to a church parking lot, where he was recorded trying to choke a church caretaker.

An officer used pepper spray and struck Bernard with a baton before he was captured at a barricade with the help of a police dog, officials said.

Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said the suspect is related to the victims.

A baseball official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the AP that Bivens is related to the slain family.

Jackie Poe, senior pastor of the River Church in Danville, told the AP that Blake Bivens was a longtime member of the church.

‘‘He’s a fine young man,’’ Poe said. ‘‘Just a great example of a young man in baseball.”

The Biscuits canceled a doubleheader Tuesday after news of the slayings broke.


In a statement on Twitter , the Rays wrote, ‘‘We’re with you, Blake.’’

Bernard is being held without bail and faces three counts of first-degree murder and use of a firearm during a felony, according to court documents.

An initial court appearance is scheduled for Thursday morning.