The 18-year-old Virginia man accused of killing three family members –– including his sister who is married to a minor league baseball player and her son –– is mentally ill, relatives say.
Matthew Bernard, 18, allegedly killed his mom, sister, her child and a dog at their family home in rural Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor identified the three victims as Joan Bernard, 62, Emily Bernard Bivens, 25, and her 14-month-old son during a Wednesday press conference.
A neighbor found one woman dead in the driveway of the home, who Taylor specified was Joan Bernard. Bivens and her child were found dead inside, according to WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The gruesome discovery kicked off a 3-hour manhunt for Matthew Bernard, who police say was found naked and unarmed in a wooded area. He ran from officers into a church parking lot and allegedly tried to strangle a man, a church caretaker, who was getting in his truck, according to footage obtained by WSET-TV. Video shows Matthew appearing to wriggle away from law enforcement a few more times before he is finally taken into custody. While in custody, he banged his head on the cage of a police cruiser and had to be treated at a hospital for cuts, according to Taylor.
He said he's now on suicide watch in jail.
Matthew’s cousin said he is mentally ill.
“Unfortunately he was suffering with mental illness and came to a breaking point,” Bernard’s cousin, 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.”
Additionally, she alluded to his mental health in a Facebook post: “Mental illness unfortunately is very alive and I’m sorry it had to strike our family so hard but I will always love you all, including Matthew with all of my heart because I know the real him!”
The teen's uncle, Bryant Bernard said he was shocked at his alleged crime.
"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," he told WSLS.
He added, "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.”
Taylor said during the press conference that he doesn’t know of any past incidents at the family home, nor could he speak to a motive. He didn't disclose the manner of death for the victims, but noted a firearm was used in the incident. During the manhunt, the sheriff's office stated Bernard was armed with rifle.
Emily was married to Blake Bivens, a 24-year-old pitcher for the Montgomery Biscuits in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. The child was his son, according to ESPN.
"Our hearts are broken for Blake. We are grieving with him and will support him any way we can,” the Rays tweeted on Tuesday.
The Montgomery Biscuits canceled a doubleheader Tuesday because of the tragedy, AL.com reported.
It’s not clear if Matthew has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf at this time.
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