New details have emerged about the 19-year-old Virginia man accused of murdering the wife, baby son, mother-in-law and pet dog of a Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect – with the suspect’s uncle describing him as a devout Christian and an ‘all-around perfect kid.’
Matthew Bernard was arrested on Tuesday after leading police on a chase in the nude through rural Virginia and was charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Blake Bivens, a 24-year-old pitcher with the Ray’s Double-A affiliate the Montgomery Biscuits, learned of his family’s slaughter just hours before a scheduled double header.
His wife Emily, one-year-old son Cullen, and Emily’s mother, 62-year-old Joan Bernard, were found dead in their home.
A family spokesman said in a statement to DailyMail.com early Wednesday morning that Matthew has been struggling with mental illness and ‘came to a breaking point.’
Matthew Bernard, 19, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of murdering his mother, Joan Bernard, his sister Emily and his baby nephew, Cullen (right)
Matthew Bernard’s uncle, Bryant Bernard, spoke to the station WSLS following his nephew’s dramatic capture, which played out in front of news cameras, saying he was stunned by what happened.
‘In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined it. Not him. Of all the people in this world. I never could have imagined it,’ Bryant Bernard said.
The uncle said Matthew is a student at Danville Community College who regularly attended church.
The college was placed on lockdown during the hour-long search for Bernard in the wake of the killings.
‘This boy’s a Christian. Went to church every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Sunday night. Taught youth groups. Just an all-around perfect kid, in my opinion,’ the murder suspect’s uncle said.
The slain wife and child of Rays prospect Blake Bivens are seen right with him, and left
Bivens wished happy first birthday to his son on Instagram on June 10
Police so far have not said anything about a possible motive, but Bryant revealed that as recently as last week, his nephew had confided in his mother that he was having bad dreams. He did not go into further detail.
Jenn Stallard, a cousin of Matthew’s, released a statement to DailyMail.com, in which she blamed his actions on mental health problems.
‘Matthew was an amazing soul and person,’ she wrote. ‘Always smiled and loved his family to the fullest. Matthew was a very active member in our church along with his family and thoroughly involved in the youth. As all of this is still unfolding and a lot of things are playing out it is being portrayed very wrong.
‘Unfortunately He was suffering with mental illness and came to a breaking point. Matthew is my cousin and I will love him and be there for him if I am ever able to because what the public has seen was not him at all and as a family, we would never imagine this could have happened.
‘As this is all still extremely fresh for our family, I remain cautious for our words not to be twisted nor our families name, including Matthew’s, not to be turmoiled any more than it already has. My main concern would just be pushing the fact that mental illness doesn’t have a type and awareness of help when needed.’
The victims were first publicly identified as members of Bivens’ family by ESPN reporter Jeff Passan.
Police have not publicly stated how they believe the murders were carried out, though they did say Bernard was armed with a rifle.
The Medical Examiner’s Office in Roanoke will officially determine the cause and manner of death.
‘Earlier today we learned that Blake Bivens, a pitcher with our Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, suffered a terrible family tragedy in southern Virginia,’ the Rays said in a statement.
Matthew was a student at a community college. He attended church and taught youth groups
Bivens is seen pitching for the Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2016. He has moved up through the organization to Double-A and is considered a hot prospect
‘Our hearts are broken for Blake. We are grieving with him and will support him any way we can. We ask that everyone respect the privacy of the Bivens family and the Biscuits family during this extremely difficult time,’ the statement continued.
The Biscuits cancelled both of the games scheduled for Tuesday upon news of the murders.
A right-handed hurler, Bivens was selected by the Rays in the fourth round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Washington High School in Danville, Virginia.
Bivens married his wife Emily in 2016. Their son Cullen Micah Bivens turned one in June, according to social media posts.
Emily was a photographer and devout Christian, her Facebook page shows.
Emily and young Cullen are seen watching one of Bivens’ games earlier this month. The mother and child were found brutally slain on Tuesday morning
Bivens is seen last year wearing a Charlotte Stone Crabs uniform with his wife and son
Emily and Bevins were married in 2016, and their son was born in June 2018
The tragic case unfolded on Tuesday morning at about 8am, when a neighbor saw a body in the driveway of a home on Keeling Drive in Pittsylvania, Virginia.
Police and paramedics rushed to the scene, and found two additional bodies inside the home.
Bernard was immediately named as a suspect, and police issued a public alert to be on the lookout for the teenager.
‘He is armed with a rifle and considered very dangerous,’ the alert stated.
Within hours, Bernard was spotted running in the area, fully nude.
The police pursuit unfolded right in front of news cameras that had staged in the area.
‘ABC 13’s Kyle Wilcox was standing in the media staging area when Bernard ran past reporters,’ WSET-TV reported.
Bernard then allegedly attacked a Keeling Baptist Church groundskeeper, trying to strangle him.
Cops maced and tasered Bernard to no avail, and captured him as he tried to run toward the nearby murder scene
Bernard went on a rampage right in the media staging area, running naked past the cameras and trying to strangle the groundskeeper at Keeling Baptist Church
After attacking the groundskeeper, Bernard continued running toward the murder scene, unfazed by mace and police batons, until he was wrestled to the ground
Video from WSET shows the moment Bernard ran after a police officer who is seen spraying him with mace on the church’s property.
Bernard is heard screaming a bit before he ran over to the groundskeeper and appeared to try and choke him.
The officer then ran over to help the elderly man and Bernard ran off again.
He was then seen running down the road where a police car and several other officers were waiting to taser and arrest him.
When he was arrested, Bernard was not armed with a weapon.
A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to help the victims’ family. As of Wednesday morning, more than $13,000 has been raised.