The Virginia man accused of killing three of his own family members in August, including the wife and son of a minor league baseball player, allegedly kept an audio diary to record the messages he believed God was sending him.
Matthew Bernard, 18, allegedly killed his mom Joan Bernard, 62, his sister Emily Bernard Bivens, 25, her 14-month old son Cullen Micah Bivens, and a dog at their family home in rural Pittsylvania County in late August. He then allegedly stripped naked and led police on a foot-pursuit. During that pursuit, he fled to a church parking lot where police say he tried to strangle a church caretaker.
He was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
Now, court documents are revealing possible insights into Bernard’s mental state at the time of the murders. Investigators wrote that they think he “was operating under religious motivation” when he killed his family, a search warrant obtained by the The Danville Register & Bee states.
The search warrant includes an interview with local youth pastor Jason Adkins of Central Boulevard Church of God, a church the family attended. He claimed that Bernard kept an audio diary on his cellphone of “his thoughts, what he had seen in dreams, visions, and things that he had heard from God.” While the pastor didn’t have access to the recordings, he claimed there were at least 100 of them.
Investigators wrote in the warrant that evidence found on Bernard’s phone would help determine a motive in the murders.
Bernard’s cousin pointed to mental illness in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
“Unfortunately he was suffering with mental illness and came to a breaking point,” Jenn Stallard told the Daily Mail in a statement. “Matthew is my cousin and I will love him and be there for if I am ever able to because what the public has seen was not him at all and his family, we would never imagine this could have happened.”
The warrant also gives more insight into the murders themselves. It states that a neighbor spotted Joan’s body in the family’s driveway and Bernard allegedly holding a rifle.
“She observed him look at her, and then she observed him run into the woods carrying the rifle with him,” the warrant states.
The warrant confirms that all three victims had been shot. Previously, the victims’ manner of deaths were not disclosed, though investigators noted that a gun was involved. The warrant also cited a bloody sledgehammer found in the home, which was also previously mentioned by the authorities.
Blake Bivens, who pitches for the Montgomery Biscuits in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, is the husband of Emily and the father of Cullen. In the aftermath of the murders, he posted that his “heart was turned to ash” and his life as he knew it “destroyed” by the murders. Over the weekend, he posted another tribute, a religious one, to his wife and son, stating in part that "it’s been a month since both of you went home to Paradise to be with Jesus."
A preliminary hearing for Bernard is set for Nov. 6.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.