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Parents of 16 kids shot to death

Published:

Parents of 16 kids shot to death

Fla. authorities suspect home invasion; kids unharmed
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6:08 p.m. ET, Fri., July 10, 2009

BEULAH, Fla. - Investigators were seeking three suspects in the home-invasion slayings of a couple with 16 children — 12 of them adopted, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office said.

Byrd and Melanie Billings were found shot to death Thursday night in their bedroom of their home in Beulah, just west of Pensacola near the Alabama border.

Deputies found eight children in the home, ranging in age from 8 to 14, Sheriff David Morgan said Friday at a news conference. None were injured, and the couple's other children were safe and accounted for, he said.

Twelve of the couple's 16 children were adopted. The Billings married 18 years ago and each had two children from previous marriages. The couple then began adopting children with developmental disabilities and other problems.

The couple owned several local businesses, including a fiance company and a used car dealership, and had been featured in the Pensacola News Journal for their generosity taking in children with disabilities and from troubled backgrounds.

Authorities were searching for three men in a large red van seen leaving the home. No motive has been established.

"It would be pure speculation. We see many random acts of violence now. We just don't know," Morgan said.

Investigators went to the home after a 911 call from a woman who lives in an outlying building and who helps care for the children, Morgan said. The woman said she believed there were two people dead inside the house.

Morgan said one of the children inside the house called the woman, and she called 911.

The sheriff said the suspects had forced their way into the sprawling home through multiple entrances.

In a 2005 story in the News Journal, the couple said they wanted to share their wealth with children in need, but didn't imagine their family would grow so large.

"It just happened," Melanie Byrd told the newspaper. "I just wanted to give them a better life."

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