• 70°

Family of minor league baseball pitcher slain in Virginia

By Tom Foreman Jr.

Associated Press

CHATHAM, Va. (AP) — The brother-in-law of a minor league baseball pitcher killed the athlete’s wife, toddler son and mother-in-law before he was captured naked during a manhunt in a tiny southern Virginia community, authorities said Wednesday.

Matthew Thomas Bernard, 18, was arrested after police warned of a dangerous gunman on the loose upon finding the bodies Tuesday morning at a home in Keeling.

Bernard’s sister, one of the victims, was married to Blake Bivens, a 24-year-old pitcher for Alabama’s Montgomery Biscuits, a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

News of the slayings had prompted the Biscuits to cancel their scheduled doubleheader Tuesday.

“All we can do is kind of put our arms around (Bivens) as an organization, him and his family, and do the best we can,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Wednesday.

Investigators are still trying to determine a motive, Pittsylvania County Sheriff Michael Taylor said at a news conference Wednesday.

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.

Cullen was the son of Emily and Blake Bivens.

During an intense manhunt Tuesday morning involving up to 100 officers, schools were locked down and a tank and armored vehicle were brought in to 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 he 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.

Police dogs 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 (in the) offseason, 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 gathering Wednesday evening.  

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

Bernard was held without bail and faces three counts of first-degree murder and use of a firearm during a felony, according to court documents. An initial court appearance was scheduled for Thursday morning. It wasn’t immediately clear if he 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.

___

AP writers Ben Finley in Norfolk, and Denise Lavoie and Sarah Rankin in Richmond contributed to this report. AP sports writer Kristie Rieken contributed from Houston.

Comments

BREAKING NEWS

Governor announces phase three of reopening starts Friday

Crime

Blotter: Concord man faces weapons, marijuana charges after traffic stop

Elections

Political sign stealing on the rise in Rowan as campaign season heats up

News

Chaotic first debate: Taunts overpower Trump, Biden visions

Elections

Debate takeaways: An acrid tone from the opening minute

News

Appalachian State student dies following COVID complications

Local

Planning board OKs rezoning for 5-acre property on Mooresville Road

Business

Kannapolis seeking redevelopment proposals for site of old baseball stadium

Elections

Tell us your opinion about the first presidential debate

Education

Kannapolis elementary students will return to full, in-person classes Nov. 2

Coronavirus

10 deaths now reported at Liberty Commons nursing home

Education

Rowan-Salisbury School Board will provide money to help athletics restart

Crime

Blotter: Charlotte teen cited with marijuana possession during traffic stop

Local

Rowan-Salisbury Schools receives $26.3 million grant to accelerate renewal

Local

Child injured after running behind father’s truck

Crime

Police identify man who took them on high-speed chase, crashed into lumber truck

China Grove

Reaper’s Realm owners promise beefed-up security after weekend shooting

Business

Contractor expands local footprint, takes on county’s coronavirus projects

News

Home Improvement: Holiday gifts to spark home improvement ideas

Elections

Political Notebook: Local parties will host watch parties for presidential debate

Crime

China Grove man cited for driving through school field

BREAKING NEWS

October closure hearings set for Faith, Enochville elementary schools

Crime

Police say man gave false name after high speed chase, crashing into lumber truck

Coronavirus

Nearly 400 cases considered currently active in the county