The wife, son, and mother-in-law of a Tampa Bay Rays minor league pitcher were murdered Tuesday—and the wife’s 18-year-old brother was arrested and charged with the slayings after running naked and screaming out of the woods.
Matthew Thomas Bernard, 18, was arrested and charged on three counts of first-degree murder, Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said during a Wednesday press conference. He identified the three victims as Joan Bernard, 62, Emily Bernard Bivens, 25, and her 14-month-old son.
Emily Bivens was married to Blake Bivens, the 24-year-old hurler for the Rays’ AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits. Taylor said the pitcher learned of the incident just hours before a scheduled doubleheader Tuesday night in Tennessee.
Authorities said the incident unfolded Tuesday morning when a neighbor found a woman dead in the driveway of the house, and police found the body of another woman and a child inside. All three lived in the house together, Taylor said.
A manhunt was organized for Bivens’ brother-in-law, Matthew Bernard, and schools were put on lockdown as heavily armed police scoured the nearby woods.
Just after noon, Bernard jogged out of the woods, unarmed and stark naked, ignored police orders to stop, and ran past a scrum of media—even after he was hit in the face with pepper spray, according to a video captured by WSET.
Bernard then throttled a church caretaker, stopping only when he was hit with a police baton. But he took off again, pepper spray dripping from his face, keeping police on the run for several minutes until he was nabbed by a tactical team with a K-9, the newspaper reported.
Authorities said Wednesday the intense manhunt involved 100 officers, a tank, and an armored vehicle that blanketed the small town near the North Carolina border.
Taylor said Bernard was transported to a local hospital late Tuesday night when he began banging his head against the cage of a police vehicle after his arrest. He was returned to jail around 3 a.m.
Police on Wednesday said they are still trying to pinpoint a motive.
“We don’t know what happened to set off this chain of events,” Taylor said.
The Rays said in a statement that “our hearts are broken for Blake. We are grieving with him and will support him in any way we can.”
Bernard’s uncle, Bryant Bernard, told WSLS that he was a student at Danville Community College and an avid churchgoer.
“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,” the uncle said. “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.”
His cousin, Jenn Stallard, alluded to Bernard’s ongoing mental instability in a Facebook tribute to her family on Wednesday.
“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!” she wrote.
Bernard’s family did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. He is expected to appear in court Thursday morning.