Sheriff: Man charged in Pittsylvania triple murder on suicide watch

Matthew Bernard
Matthew Bernard(WDBJ)
Published: Aug. 28, 2019 at 3:43 PM EDT
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Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor held a news conference Wednesday afternoon releasing new information in the triple murder in the Keeling area.

The Sheriff confirmed the victims were 62-year-old Joan Bernard, her 25-year-old daughter Emily Bernard Bivens and 14-month-old Cullen Bivens.

Emily Bivens' husband is a player for the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team's farm team in Montgomery, Alabama and a graduate of G.W. Danville High School. He and Emily Bivens were childhood sweethearts, according to Bivens' cousin, who spoke to WDBJ7.

A firearm was recovered from the scene at 1949 Keeling Drive, according to Sheriff Taylor, but he would not say anything more about the type of weapon or the cause of death.

Sheriff Taylor said he does not know a motive and would only say "We're still working on that."

Investigators are working to gather more information. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is conducting a search for evidence in the Keeling area.

Meanwhile, the suspect, 18-year-old Matthew Bernard, is in the Pittsylvania County jail charged with killing his mother, sister and nephew. Upon his arrest, Bernard banged his head against the cage of the deputies' cruiser, injuring himself, according to Taylor. He was taken to a hospital Tuesday, treated and then taken back to the jail early Wednesday, according to Taylor.

Sheriff Taylor spoke of the difficulty in handling such heinous crimes. "It's devastating," Taylor said. "It's something you don't get used to."


A man in Pittsylvania County has been charged in the triple murder of his mother, sister and 14-month-old nephew.

Matthew Thomas Bernard, 18, of Keeling, was arrested after police warned of a gunman on the loose after finding the bodies in Keeling on Tuesday.

"Our office received a call from a neighbor just down the street advising us that they believed that someone had been shot," Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office Mike Taylor said.

Authorities captured Bernard after he emerged naked from the woods and attacked a groundskeeper at a Baptist church hours after the bodies were found.

Bernard was charged with three counts of first-degree murder.

The victims were identified as Bernard's mother, Joan, his sister, Emily Marie Bivens and her son, Cullen Bivens.

Officials say Joan was found dead in the driveway.

Emily Bivens was married to Blake Bivens, a pitcher for the Montgomery Biscuits, a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Cullen Bivens was the couple's 14-month-old son.

The baseball player was on his way home from a game during the incident, officials say, and he was notified of the murders when he arrived home.

Several schools were placed on lockdown as about 100 officers responded to the incident.

According to the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office, when Bernard was in custody, he banged his head against a cage in a police car, causing cuts. He was taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital where he was treated and then returned to jail around 3 a.m.

He is currently under suicide watch.

Many specifics about the investigation are not being released at this time due to legal purposes.

The three bodies are being examined and an autopsy report will be issued in the coming days to determine the exact cause of death of each victim.

It is unclear whether Bernard has an attorney or what plea he will enter.

Authorities do not know of Bernard's motive at this time.

More charges are pending.

A court hearing has not yet been scheduled because judges are currently at a conference. In his first court appearance, he will be notified of his charges and will have an opportunity to request bail.

Copyright 2019/WDBJ7. All rights reserved.

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