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‘There’s a void in Keeling’

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Keeling Victims

Joan Bernard, from left, Emily Bernard Bivens, and Cullen Bivens were all found at the Keeling Drive address. 

Tuesday, Aug. 27 for Keeling resident John Filkins began with a walk in the woods with his dog, and ended in disbelief.

“There’s a void in Keeling with the loss of Joan, her daughter, and that little boy,” Filkins, who has lived on Keeling Drive for nearly 20 years, said.

On Aug. 27, Joan Denise Jefferson Bernard, 62; Emily Bernard Bivens, 25; and Cullen Micah Bivens, 14 months old; were murdered at 1949 Keeling Drive.

The body of Bernard was found in the driveway according to the Pittsylvania County Sheriff’s Office.

A warrant obtained from Pittsylvania County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Thursday, Aug. 29 states two of the victims in the 1949 Keeling Drive triple homicide received gunshots to the head. 

"30-30 caliber shell casings were located near all three deceased. One sledgehammer was located in garage with blood," the warrant, sworn out by Pittsylvania County Investigator D.G. Sheppard states. 

The warrant also states Matthew Thomas Bernard, who has been charged with three counts of first degree murder, ran to a neighbor only identified as Ms. Jefferson and punched her in the arm before running away. 

"Ms. Jefferson stated shortly thereafter, she heard multiple gunshots coming from the residence next door where Matthew Bernard resides at 1949 Keeling Dr.," the warrant states. 

The 30-30 rifle was located in the woods behind the residence according to the warrant. 

At 7:30 a.m. that morning, Filkins said he walked through the woods behind his house not knowing what was going on at the Bernard home a couple hundred yards away.

“You can walk to the church where Matthew was found from my woods. There’s a road back there that leads you there,” Filkins said.

Once Filkins returned home, his wife told him authorities were making people aware of a man that could be armed and dangerous in their neighborhood. That man later turned out to be Matthew Bernard.

“I said you’ve got to be kidding me. In Keeling? It’s a quiet community,” Filkins said.

“Everything came together, and I kept telling my wife I hope it wasn’t Joan, her daughter or grandson,” Filkins said. “But it was.”

Filkins said he treated all the information he was hearing about the identities of the victims as a rumor until it was officially confirmed.

During a press conference held Wednesday, Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor publicly announced the names of the victims.

The announcement came at 4 p.m. Wednesday— nearly 32 hours after county dispatchers first received a call about Joan Bernard’s body being found in a driveway.

When Matthew Bernard appeared naked and eventually was apprehended on the edge of Keeling Drive, Filkins said he was standing on his property at the edge of the road talking to his neighbor.

“Cars started whizzing by. I said something is going on. He must’ve come out of the woods,” Filkins said.

Sheriff Taylor told members of the media Matthew Bernard caused injuries to his head after being placed in a police cruiser by slamming it into the cage.

SOVAH Health recommended Matthew Bernard be transferred to Carilion in Roanoke for treatment. He returned to Pittsylvania County Jail around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Pittsylvania County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court was prepared to arraign Matthew Bernard Thursday morning.

However, the court was surprised to learn Matthew Bernard was transported to a hospital again sometime during the night. His status, location, and condition are not known.

Filkins described Joan Bernard as a kind and loving woman.

“I knew Joan well. I always spoke with her. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met,” Filkins said. “I was a regular at the campground and would occasionally rent a cabin from her. It was close to home, but the campground was like a little getaway.”

Filkins said he also met Matthew Bernard several times as well.

“I understand he carried a Bible in school. Why would someone want to kill his mother, a baby, and sister,” Filkins said.

Throughout the day Tuesday and Wednesday, Filkins said the quiet Keeling neighborhood has been buzzing with law enforcement, state officials, and media members in the neighborhood.

Filkins wishes to offer his condolences to the family, and said he would like to speak with them in person.

In addition, Filkins offered to help at Paradise Lake, where Joan Bernard worked, anyway he could during this difficult time.

Matthew Bernard remains on suicide watch. He also has a court date set for Sept. 5 at 8:30 a.m. in Pittsylvania County.

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