Man accused of killing family, including toddler, of Tampa Bay Rays prospect Blake Bivens

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Man arrested in triple murder of baseball player's family
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Sources told ESPN the victims are the mother-in-law, wife and child of Blake Bivens, who is the suspect's brother-in-law.

CHATHAM, Virginia -- 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 Tuesday morning at a home in Keeling.

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.

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

During an intense manhunt involving 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.

Authorities said 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, officials said.

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 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."

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."

Meanwhile, Bernard is being 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 is scheduled for Thursday morning. It wasn't immediate 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.

Bivens' son turned a year old in June.

He shared this Instagram post of his son on his birthday.

According to ESPN, Bivens was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the fourth round of the 2014 draft after he attended high school in Virginia.