PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Authorities in Pittsylvania County have confirmed the identities and relationship of victims in Tuesday’s triple murder in the Keeling community.
County Sheriff Mike Taylor identified the victims as 62-year-old Joan Bernard, 25-year-old Emily Bernard Bivens, and 14-month-old Cullen Bivens. Taylor said all three were related to the suspect in custody, Matthew Bernard. Joan was Matthew Bernard’s mother, Emily his sister, and Cullen his niece. The husband of Emily Bivens and father of Cullen, baseball player Blake Bivens, was notified of his family’s murder after arriving back in Virginia. Blake plays baseball for a minor league affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. He was accompanied back home to Virginia with team officials. His team, the Montgomery Biscuits, canceled Tuesday evening’s game after the shooting earlier that morning.
According to the county sheriff, Joan Bernard was found dead outside the home at 1949 Keeling Drive when deputies first arrived on scene. Emily Bivens and Cullen were found inside the home.
Autopsies on all the victims have been completed, though Taylor said a cause and manner of death had not yet been confirmed. He did confirm that a firearm was involved in the incident, though said he could not confirm further details due to the ongoing investigation.
Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert “Bryan” Haskins said the investigation is a search for truth.
“That is all we are after,” he said, later adding, “We are looking at every avenue.”
While he said he will fight for the victims of Tuesday’s triple murder, Haskins said Bernard was also entitled to a fair trial.
“No matter how violent or evil the crime may appear to be, everyone is presumed to be innocent,” he said.
Haskins said police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney would not be releasing much information about potential evidence before Bernard goes to trial.
“I am not going to do it publicly because to do so is to unfairly prejudice this young man’s right to a fair trial,” he said.
Taylor confirmed that suspect Matthew Bernard, who is being held on three counts of first degree murder, is currently on suicide watch in the Pittsylvania County Jail. Taylor said the measure was to “make sure he’s safe and so he will be on that status for some time now until the court process starts.”
After being taken into custody following a foot chase of a naked Bernard, Taylor said Bernard hit his head on a “cage” in the back of a patrol car which caused cuts on his head. Bernard was taken to a hospital in Danville before being transferred to Roanoke Carillion Memorial Hospital. After being discharged, he was returned to the Pittsylvania County Jail around 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Haskins said Bernard could have his first court appearance as early as tomorrow, though it could be delayed until next week.