Police apprehended Matthew Thomas Bernard, 19, of Keeling, Virginia, who was unarmed and completely unclothed, around 12:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27. He was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in Pittsylvania County after the deaths of two women and a child.
Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said that in total, about 100 officers responded to the scene from numerous agencies including law enforcement officers from Martinsville, Danville, Henry County, as well as Department of Corrections officers and Virginia State troopers to help in the search for Bernard.
Authorities have not released many details about what led to the murders and how the victims were killed.
WSLS-TV reported that the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police were dispatched to Matthew Bernard’s family home shortly after receiving a 911 call at 8 a.m. that someone had been shot.
The first responding officer found a woman’s body in the driveway of the home, who later identified as Bernard’s 62-year-old mother, Joan Bernard. The other two victims, a woman and a child, were found inside the home, later identified as Bernard’s sister, 24-year-old Emily Bernard Bivens and his nephew, Cullen Bivens, the wife and 1-year-old son of Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Blake Bivens.
“We don’t know what happened to set off this chain of events,” Taylor said.
The sheriff’s office said that Bernard was last seen in blue jeans and a white shirt, had a rifle with him and took off into the woods.
Authorities released a description of Bernard to alert the neighborhood about the situation and advised residents to be aware and on the lookout for him.
Dan River High School, Dan River Middle School, Kentuck Elementary School, Southside Elementary School, Chatham Middle School, Chatham High School, Regional Alternative School and the Pittsylvania Career and Technical Center were told to stay in lock down until the suspect was located or the surrounding area was fully searched and clear.
Police also put Danville Community College where Bernard was a student into a lockdown.
The street and area around the home were closed and officials were not letting anyone down the road.
K-9 officers were brought into the area to search for Bernard in the wooded area near the home. After some time of searching the area, a naked man ran toward an armed officer in tactical gear. Bernard was sprayed with pepper spray by the officer, he ran through a media staging area and then he took off running into a nearby parking lot.
Police said that Bernard was seen attempting to choke an elderly groundskeeper at Keeling Baptist Church who was trying to get into his vehicle in that parking lot.
Bernard was arrested at 12:18 p.m. and taken to a nearby medical facility for treatment. Taylor said that he did try to escape officers.
Bryant Bernard, the suspect’s uncle, who describing Matthew Bernard as “an all-around perfect kid,” told the news station that Matthew Bernard’s father, Nelson Bernard, was home at the time of the murders and was not killed.
“In my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined it. Not him,” he told WSLS-TV.
Taylor said in the Tuesday’s news conference that authorities are still investigating motive.
“We won’t go into the whys because we don’t know yet. We are trying to figure that out ourselves,” he told reporters.
Taylor also said that the victims’ bodies were transported to the Roanoke medical examiners office to determine the cause of death through autopsies.
Warrants were issued for Bernard and he was arrested on three counts of murder. Bernard has not yet been scheduled for his first court appearance, according to Law Enforcement Today.