KEELING — Several years ago, Matthew Bernard sat at a table in the front office of Paradise Lake and Campground for hours with a woman who had recently lost her husband. He prayed and talked with her and even danced around the table trying to make her laugh.
“He was a goofball,” said campground desk clerk Kelly Cook as she recalled the scene. “If you weren’t smiling, he made sure when he walked out of the room that you were smiling.”
The caring teenager who performed bookkeeping and landscaping at the family-owned campground is now accused of a triple homicide that includes his mother, Joan Bernard, 62; his sister, Emily Bernard Bivens, 25; and her 1-year-old son, Cullen Micah Bivens.
Capping off the grisly discovery of the bodies Tuesday on Keeling Drive was a chaotic arrest of the 18-year-old as he dashed nude from a treeline located roughly a mile from the crime scene. He was pepper-sprayed by a state police officer while on his way to a church parking lot and then tried to choke a church caretaker before being struck by a police baton and running off into a phalanx of waiting cops.
Recently released Pittsylvania Domestic Relations Court documents show there was more to the crime scene — a sledgehammer with blood, a rifle found in the woods behind the home and shell casings near all three bodies.
The scene came to light after a next-door neighbor began investigating after Matthew Bernard showed up on her property, punched her in the arm and then ran off. The neighbor who discovered the body, contacted by the Danville Register & Bee on Thursday, did not want to comment for this story.
Soon after the strange encounter, the neighbor heard gunshots at the house next door, where Matthew Bernard lived with his family.
She called the police, got in her car and drove to the house. When she pulled up, court documents state, she found a deceased body in the driveway. The Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office, in a news conference Wednesday, said the body of Joan Bernard was found in the driveway.
When deputies arrived, they conducted a full sweep of the house and found the bodies of Emily and Cullen Bivens inside.
Two of the bodies found at the scene had visible gunshot wounds to the head, court documents state, and all three had 30-30 shell casings nearby.
Investigators found a sledgehammer in the garage with blood.
They also found a 30-30 rifle in the wooded area behind the house, according to the document.
Bernard has since been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony.
Family members contacted by the Register & Bee declined to comment for this story.
Cook said after five years of working at the campground, the Bernards were like a second family to her.
“I feel so much heartache for all of them,” she said.
Joan Bernard came into the front office almost everyday, Cook said, and stopped working only when she was spending time with family or at church.
“She loved her family more than she loved herself,” she said.
Cook said she still expects Joan Bernard to walk through the front door of the office, asking where her keys and phone are like she always used to.
Emily Bernard Bivens was a music teacher and enjoyed photography, according to her obituary.
She was married to Blake Bivens, a 24-year-old Danville native who pitches for the Montgomery Biscuits, the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Cullen Micah Bivens was their son.
Emily collaborated with members of Our Baseball Life, a resource community for pro-baseball families, according to their official statement.
“She has been described as a bright light and a kind soul to those who met her within the baseball world,” the statement said.
The managing director of Our Baseball Life declined to comment further.
A funeral service for the three will be held Saturday at Central Boulevard Church of God in Danville.
Matthew Bernard, described by Cook as intelligent and good with numbers, attended Danville Community College, court documents state.
“His favorite saying was Jesus loves you and I do, too,” Cook said.