Fla. Officials Find Van in Panhandle Slaying

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - Florida law enforcement officials said Saturday they were questioning two persons of interest in the killing of a Panhandle couple known for their large family of adopted children.

Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said in a news conference
that tips from the public led to the discovery of a red van Saturday morning that was likely the same one used in the crime. Morgan said the two people being questioned are not in custody.

Byrd and Melanie Billings of Beulah, a rural area west of Pensacola near the Alabama border, were found shot dead in their home Thursday evening. Eight of their children were home at the time were not harmed.

Morgan said the way the crime was committed suggested "experience" on the part of the killers because of "the rapidity of this crime - in and out" of the house.

He said officials are working from the premise that the crime was "a home invasion" and added "we have yet to determine a reason for, specifically why the Billings were targeted."

The sheriff said he would not comment on whether anything was taken from the family's home. He said the three suspects being sought in the crime are in their "late teens on up" in age.

The couple was well known locally for adopting children with developmental disabilities. They owned several local businesses,
including a finance company and a used car dealership.

Investigators interviewed the children, who are now staying with other family members.

The Billings had 16 children, 12 of them adopted. They married 18 years ago and each had two children from previous marriages. The
couple then began adopting children with developmental disabilities
and other problems.

In a 2005 story in the Pensacola 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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