Possible religious motive identified in Pittsylvania County triple murder


PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. (WFXR) — Additional details were released Friday in the triple murder of three family members in Pittsylvania County in August, including a possible religious motive for the murders.

The information, revealed in court documents obtained by WFXRtv.com, reports new facts about the minutes after Rachel Jefferson found a person murdered in the front yard of her neighbor’s house.

“As Ms. Jefferson sees the body of one of the three victims in this event, she also observes Matthew Thomas Bernard walk out from either the garage or behind the house from the garage side,” the document states. “At that time, she observes him holding a rifle. She observed him look at her, and then she observed him run into the woods carrying the rifle with him.”

Bernard is alleged to have shot his mother Joan Bernard, sister Emily Bivens, and nephew Cullen Bivens. Jefferson has previously been identified as Matthew Bernard’s aunt.

At this point, the document said she called police.

The court documents note that police found an iPhone in a room believed to be Matthew Bernard’s bedroom. Another phone, found in the front yard of the residence, was identified by Matthew Bernard’s father as Matthew’s phone.

Investigators spoke with Jason Adkins, identified in court documents as youth pastor at Central Avenue Church of God in Danville. He is alleged to have told investigators that Matthew Bernard “kept an audio diary on his phone” where he would describe his thoughts, describe his dreams, “visions and things that he had heard from God.”

The document said Adkins told investigators that Matthew Bernard showed him the records but had never directly shared the recordings. Adkins claimed there were “probably a hundred or more recordings on Matthew’s phone.”

Adkins also said Matthew Bernard “told him he wanted to keep this in case it comes to pass.”

The documents continue by stating Matthew Bernard provided statements to investigators which pointed to a “religious motivation” for the crimes.

In the last paragraph of the document describing evidence and witness statements, the investigator who filled out the affidavit wrote, “Your affiant is further aware that cell phones store information including voicemails, voice recordings, call history, electronic messages, social media activity, internet search history, and historical location data.” This information, the document read, said data on the phone could “assist the Sheriff’s Office in building a history of Matthew Thomas Bernard’s movements, contacts, and thought processes in the days and hours leading up to the commission of these offenses.”

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