Keeling Drive triple homicide

A Virginia State Police trooper uses a night stick on Matthew Thomas Bernard at Keeling Baptist Church around 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27. Bernard was apprehended by officers on Keeling Drive shortly after. 

The Virginia State Police have issued a statement following the actions of a Virginia State Police trooper during the apprehension of Matthew Thomas Bernard on Tuesday, Aug. 27.  

Bernard is charged with three counts of first degree murder after Joan Denise Jefferson Bernard, 62; Emily Bernard Bivens, 25; and Cullen Micah Bivens, 14 months old were all found dead at 1949 Keeling Drive on Aug. 27.  

The Virginia State Police statement from Corinne Geller, Public Relations Director, reads: 

Multiple state police units were assisting the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office with the intensive search for an armed male subject wanted for the triple homicide at a local residence early Tuesday morning. During the course of the manhunt, the murder suspect came running out of the woods in an aggressive manner towards the media staging area. A trooper staged with the media initially confronted the naked individual  and then pursued the man on foot. 

The murder suspect was not in possession of a weapon and was in obvious mental distress. State police are trained to first attempt to deescalate a situation with an individual who is displaying obvious mental distress. The trooper used the equipment at his disposal, which included pepper spray and a baton. Troopers are also trained to maintain a safe, tactical distance from a suspect in order to prevent an individual from gaining access to the troopers' weapons. 

The trooper purposely made a tactical retreat, chose nonlethal means and tried to engage with him verbally. The murder suspect was taken to the ground with the assistance of a state police K9 and two other troopers. The murder suspect was taken into custody without further incident and turned over to the sheriff's office. The incident is under review, as required when a use of force is involved in the apprehension of a subject.  

The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation's Salem Field Office continues to assist the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office with the ongoing homicide investigation.

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