The wife, child and mother-in-law of Blake Bivens, a Double-A pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, were killed in a small Virginia town Tuesday, with police arresting the brother-in-law of right-hander Bivens and charging him with three counts of first-degree homicide.
Matthew Thomas Bernard, 18, of Keeling, Virginia, was arrested after a manhunt that dispatched dozens of police officers around the community near the Virginia-North Carolina border.
Magistrate Judge J. Allan Blair ordered Bernard held without bail Wednesday. An initial court appearance is scheduled for Thursday morning.
Police said they did not know the motive of Bernard, who was naked at the time of his arrest after leading authorities on a short on-foot chase.
Pittsylvania County Sheriff Michael Taylor identified the dead as Bernard’s mother, 62-year-old Joan Bernard; his sister, 25-year-old Emily Bivens; and his nephew, 14-month-old Cullen Bivens.
Emily Bivens was married to Blake Bivens, a pitcher for Alabama’s Montgomery Biscuits, a Double-A affiliate of the Rays. Cullen Bivens was the couple’s son.
In a statement Tuesday, the Rays said: “We learned that Blake Bivens, a pitcher with our Double-A affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits, suffered a terrible family tragedy in southern Virginia. Our hearts are broken for Blake.”
The Biscuits canceled a doubleheader scheduled for Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, due to what the team called a “tragic event.”
CEO Lou DiBella later tweeted a statement.
A statement from CEO & Managing Owner, Lou DiBella. pic.twitter.com/Uocm0juKb7
— Montgomery Biscuits (@BiscuitBaseball) August 28, 2019
Bivens, 24, was chosen by Tampa Bay in the fourth round of the 2014 draft out of high school in Danville, Virginia. After spending most of his career as a starting pitcher, he transitioned to a relief role this year and was 4-0 with a 3.95 ERA.
During the intense manhunt Tuesday morning involving up to 100 officers, schools were locked down and a tank and armored vehicle were brought into Keeling, an unincorporated community near the North Carolina border. Authorities said Bernard emerged naked and unarmed 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 unleashed pepper spray and smacked Bernard with a baton before Bernard was captured at a barricade with the help of a police dog, 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, Taylor said. He was released and was in jail Wednesday, where he was being kept on suicide watch, Taylor said.
A firearm was “involved in the incident,” according to Taylor, who declined to give details about how the victims died. K-9s were processing the crime scene Wednesday, the sheriff said.
Jackie Poe, the senior pastor of The River Church in Danville, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Blake Bivens was a longtime member of the church, and that he and Emily would come to services during the baseball offseason.
“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.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Bernard had an attorney who could comment. Paperwork for determining Bernard’s bail shows that he was attending community college and working at his parents’ campground.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.