Teammates mourn slayings of pitcher’s family in Va. town

KEELING, Va. (AP) — Blake Bivens was inconsolable as the 24-year-old minor league pitcher flew from a road trip back to southern Virginia, where his wife, 1-year-old son and mother-in-law were slain.
“It was awful,” said Montgomery Biscuits manager Morgan Ensberg, who traveled with Bivens on Tuesday. “Blake is an incredibly strong man. He’s an incredibly strong man, and he went through just a rotation of tearing up, and then he would shake and then he would just stare.
“I didn’t let him out of my sight.”
The 18-year-old brother of Bivens’ wife has been charged with first-degree murder in the slayings, which have shocked his coaches, teammates and the community where his family lived.
“You don’t wish this on any community, any family,” Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said. “We’re a small community. It affects us all.”
Court documents released Thursday revealed new details in the slayings but did not explain what could have driven 18-year-old Matthew Bernard to allegedly kill his sister, Emily Bernard Bivens; his nephew, 14-month-old Cullen Bivens; and his mother, Joan Bernard.
In Montgomery, the Biscuits — a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays — painted “BIV” on the ground behind home plate before a game against Pensacola. They were to hold a moment of silence before the game, with another planned before the Rays’ home game Friday against the Cleveland Indians.
“Nobody’s thinking about baseball,” Ensberg said.
Montgomery pitching coach R.C. Lichtenstein remembers pregame moments when Bivens would walk over to see his wife and hold Cullen.
Biscuits pitcher Ryan Thompson said Bivens’ family was on his mind “all the time.”
“His family was everything to him,” said an emotional Thompson, who described Bivens as a close friend with a “hilarious” sense of humor.
“He never lets the game get in the way of who he is as a human being. He’s such a great guy, and something like this couldn’t happen to a better human being,” Thompson said.
According to the complaint filed against Bernard, the teenager’s rampage began Tuesday morning at a neighbor’s house. Bernard punched the neighbor in the arm and then ran away, police said.
The neighbor then heard gunshots at the house next door, police said. The neighbor drove to the house and found a woman’s body in the driveway. Inside, she found the other two bodies.
Officers found two victims with gunshot wounds to the head and rifle shell casings near all three bodies.
A rifle was found in a wooded area behind the house and a sledgehammer with blood was found in the garage, the court documents said.
The criminal complaint did not offer any motive for the killings, and authorities have declined to comment.
After the bodies were discovered, a manhunt brought as many as 100 officers to Keeling, a tiny community near the North Carolina border.
Bernard emerged naked from the woods about four hours later, running past TV 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, 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 Thursday, where he was being held without bail and kept on suicide watch, police said.
A “celebration of life” service for the slain family members is planned for Saturday.
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.
Avery Stevens, pastor of Keeling Baptist Church, said he was in his office where he also works as an insurance agent when he saw the television coverage of Bernard’s capture near his church.
“This is a small, rural community, pretty quiet most of the time like most small, rural communities. But the fact of the matter is, it can happen anywhere, and right there at the doorstep,” he said.
“Pray for the family,” he said. “Praying for the community. Praying for healing.”