Minor league baseball player’s wife, 1-year-old son, mother-in-law murdered; brother-in-law charged

Published 4:16 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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 at a home in Keeling on Tuesday morning.

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.

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

During an intense manhunt that involved 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.

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 sprayed pepper spray and smacked Bernard with a baton before he was captured at a barricade with the help of a police dog.

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 Associated Press that Bivens is related to the slain family. The official was not authorized to speak publicly.

Jackie Poe, the senior pastor of The River Church in Danville, told the AP on Wednesday that Blake Bivens was a longtime member of the church, and that he and his wife Emily would come to services during the baseball off-season. 

“He’s a fine young man,” Poe said. “Just a great example of a young man in baseball. And just a good Christian young man.” 

“His wife was just a wonderful young lady. Whenever he was off season, they would be in church.”

Poe said Bivens’ parents are “just completely shocked and devastated and yet holding on to their faith and trusting in God.”

The church planned to hold a community prayer event Wednesday evening.  

“That’s what we do,” Poe said. “And that’s the answer. There are no other answers for a tragedy like this.”

The Montgomery Biscuits canceled its scheduled doubleheader Tuesday after news of the slayings broke.

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