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Investigators still searching for answers in Rays-related deaths

Police confirm that the wife, son and mother-in-law of Rays minor-league pitcher Blake Bivens were killed Tuesday. They have arrested the wife’s brother.
Police apprehend Matthew Thomas Bernard on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 in Keeling, Va. The wife, toddler son and mother-in-law of minor league baseball player Blake Bivens have been killed. Bernard, Bivens’ brother-in-law, has been charged with first-degree murder. (Matt Bell/Danville Register & Bee via AP)
Police apprehend Matthew Thomas Bernard on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019 in Keeling, Va. The wife, toddler son and mother-in-law of minor league baseball player Blake Bivens have been killed. Bernard, Bivens’ brother-in-law, has been charged with first-degree murder. (Matt Bell/Danville Register & Bee via AP) [ MATT BELL | AP ]
Published Aug. 29, 2019|Updated Aug. 29, 2019

HOUSTON — Investigators are still trying to determine a motive for the slayings of Rays minor-league pitcher Blake Bivens’ wife and his 14-month-old son and mother-in-law, Pittsylvania (Va.) County Sheriff Michael Taylor said Wednesday.

Matthew Thomas Bernard, the 18-year-old brother of Bivens’ wife, was arrested Tuesday and faces three counts of first-degree murder and use of a firearm during a felony. Bernard is being held without bail and is on suicide watch, Taylor said.

Matthew Bernard is pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Authorities said Bernard is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. [Pittsylvania County Sheriff Office]
Matthew Bernard is pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. Authorities said Bernard is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. [Pittsylvania County Sheriff Office] [ AP ]

Bernard was found emerging from a wooded area naked and unarmed and, after initially avoiding capture, was apprehended with the help of a police dog. An initial court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.

“We won’t go into the whys because we don’t know yet. We’re trying to figure that out ourselves,’’ Taylor said at a media briefing in Chatham, Va. “I think that (Bivens) has questions, just as we all do at this point.’’

Police confirmed the victims were Emily Bivens, 25; Cullen Bivens, 14 months; and Joan Bernard, 62, the suspect’s mother. Taylor said a neighbor found Joan Bernard’s body in the driveway of the family’s Keeling, Va., home Tuesday morning and notified police, who found the bodies of Emily and Cullen inside.

Paperwork showed Matthew Bernard was attending community college and working at his parents’ campground.

The tragic incident touched many throughout the baseball world and elsewhere.

A gofundme.com page (Emily Bivens Family Fund), arranged by the Our Baseball Life group, had raised nearly $35,000 by Wednesday night.

Before Wednesday’s game against the visiting Rays, the Astros held a moment of silence in tribute to Bivens; the Rays are expected to do so Friday when they return home.

Though few of the current Rays big-leaguers knew or played with Bivens, they all felt his loss, manager Kevin Cash said.

“I don’t know if we have words,’’ Cash said. “Our hearts go out to the Bivens family, Blake, the Bernard family. It’s national news. It’s terrifying to know that goes on. All we can do is kind of put our arms around him as an organization, him and his family, and do the best we can.’’

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Bivens, 24, is a pitcher on the Rays’ Double-A Montgomery, Ala., team who attended high school in nearby Danville. The Biscuits will resume play at home today after canceling a doubleheader Tuesday in Chattanooga, Tenn., and having Wednesday off. Manager Morgan Ensberg, who accompanied Bivens home to Virginia, is expected back.

Bivens and his wife had their first child, Cullen, in 2018. On June 10, Bivens posted a video of his son on Instagram to celebrate his first birthday.

The Biscuits start a five-game series against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos to conclude the Southern League regular season. Montgomery is then slated to take on the Jackson Generals in the Southern League semifinals, beginning Sept. 4.

Times staff writer Ryan Kolakowski and information from the Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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