Eight months after his wife, mother-in-law and 1-year-old son were killed by gunfire, Tampa Bay Rays minor league pitcher Blake Bivens has shared the devastating moment when he first learned the news.
Bivens, 24, spoke during a church service in his hometown of Danville, Virginia, on Sunday about how he looked at Facebook on his phone in the airport on Aug. 27, 2019. At the time, he was waiting to fly back home after being on the road with his Double A baseball team.
"First headline I see is two females and a small child were gone,'' he said. "I immediately knew that was them. I found out my family was gone over a Facebook headline, and I just immediately began to scream in the middle of the airport."
His wife Emily Bivens, 24; his mother-in-law, Joan Bernard, 62; and his 14-month-old son, Cullen, were killed in what police have called a triple homicide. Bivens' brother-in-law, Matthew Thomas Bernard, 19, has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder.
Bivens was up early that day because his team, the Montgomery Biscuits, was playing a series in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He checked his phone that morning and saw no messages from his wife, so he decided to check Facebook and became alarmed by a news story.
"Immediately, as soon as I clicked on Facebook, I just saw a headline, and the headline was just they were looking for my brother-in-law,'' he said. "So I just knew then there was something going on, so I immediately called my parents. They were trying to figure out everything that was going on also.
"So at that point I knew I needed to get my stuff together. I needed to probably get an airplane trip home, not knowing the extent of anything going on."
Personnel from the Rays organization had him on a flight back home within 30 minutes of seeing the first headline, and his teammates checked on him and asked if there was any way they could help.
"That morning for me, it was complete chaos in my mind, but I had people there that did care and that knew Cullen and Emily, and I'm grateful for that,'' he said. "I vividly remember a lot of the details from that day. I look back, and I'm extremely grateful for the people that were there at the time. It could've been a whole lot worse for me if I didn't have anyone there."
Rays officials flew home on the plane with him as he tried to process the unfathomable news.
"The only thing I really remember from the whole plane ride is I just kinda went through periods, I just stared at the back of the seat the whole time, trying to get my mind to wrap around what I’m hearing," Bivens said. "It’s almost kind of like, 'This isn’t really happening.' I was just more in a state of shock.
"I would go through periods of shaking, and then I would kind of start to lose it a little bit and break down and cry. It was just kind of just a circle. The plane rides just seemed like they took forever."
A large group of family members were waiting for him at the airport in Charlotte.
"We hugged, and we cried for 30 minutes. It's unbelievable how much I can vividly remember from the day. It's kind of unbelievable to see how far things have come from that day, also."
He wrote a heartbreaking Instagram message in the aftermath of the loss of his family.
"Two days ago my heart was turned to ash,'' he wrote. "My life as I knew it is destroyed. The pain my family and I feel is unbearable and cannot be put into words. I shake and tremble at the thought of our future without them."
"I think the hardest moment for me was when I got home and I walked in my son's bedroom for the first time and realized I was never going to see him on this earth again,'' he said on Sunday. "That was the worst moment of my life. Nothing ever will come close to ... feeling the way I felt that day, at that moment. But then again, I know I will see him again one day, and it won't be long."
Bivens said his faith has helped him endure the tragedy.
"I think the greatest comfort for me has been knowing without a shadow of a doubt where my family is,'' he said. "I know they're in the arms of Jesus, and they're waiting for me to be there with them."