Processing tragedy: How law enforcement officers work through emotionally tough cases

Tuesday's triple homicide in Pittsylvania County has been tough on officers

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. – Investigators at the scene of Tuesday's triple homicide that rocked the Keeling community in Pittsylvania County may not have shown their emotions, but the case no doubt had an impact on many of them.

The patrol cars and investigators were gone from Keeling Drive Thursday, but the unimaginable tragedy that occurred there Tuesday will not soon be forgotten.

"We're human beings. There's no superhero cape, there's no special mental training that we go through. We're human beings and these events are traumatic," Danville Police Department Lt. Richard Chivvis said.

Chivvis is a former detective himself and knows first hand just how traumatic situations like Tuesday's triple homicide can be.

"Law enforcement, we've had such a bravado that you can be seen as weak for talking about that. We're breaking past that. We're moving past that. We're doing the right thing," Chivvis said

An encounter with an officer at the scene Tuesday was evidence, Pittsylvania County Sheriff Mike Taylor said at a news conference Wednesday, of just how emotionally tough the case is.

"I saw him walking up the driveway, that he was in need of something, that I could save him some steps. So I walked down to him and said, 'What can I get you?' He said, 'I just need a minute.' It sums it up," Taylor said.

Debriefings are planned to help.

Chivvis says that does help.

"We have developed, with the help of Danville Pittsylvania Community Services, a mental health or crisis response team that is built up of local public safety professionals and mental health professionals and it's not confined just to the Danville Police Department," Chivvis said.

A potentially valuable resource for a community that may need all the help it can get to process such a tragic loss of life.

The suspect in Tuesday's homicide, 19-year-old Matthew Bernard, was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning but was instead hospitalized for unknown reasons.

A criminal complaint released Thursday shows a 30-30 rifle was found in the woods behind Bernard's home, where the homicides happened.

A bloody sledgehammer and 30-30 shell casings were found at the home.