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Adopted Son Watched as Gunmen Murdered Billings

(Pensacola News Journal )
Photo: Byrd and Melanie Billings with their children.

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) A 10-year-old adopted son with Down syndrome was sleeping with his parents when masked gunmen burst in and shot and killed the Florida couple in their bedroom last month, according to documents released Monday.

The boy was among nine children between the ages of 4 and 11 at the home when Byrd and Melanie Billings were slain July 9. The couple was known for adopting numerous children with special needs.

According to a sheriff's report, the child in the bedroom told investigators he heard a knock on the door and that "two bad men" said, "You're going to die, one, two, three" and then, "no way, no way."

The documents say investigators struggled to interview the boy because of a speech impediment and other disabilities. The child witness said his dad grabbed the neck of one of the gunmen and that his mom "got shot in her shirt."

The more than 700 pages of witness and suspect interviews, crime scene reports and autopsy information released by State Attorney Bill Eddins detail a gruesome scene. Six men and a 16-year-old boy charged as an adult face two counts each of first-degree murder. Eddins and Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan have said more arrests are possible.

Pamela Long Wiggins was taken into custody Monday after being arraigned on a charge of accessory to first-degree murder. Prosecutors claim she hid a safe stolen from the Billings' home in her yard. She has pleaded not guilty.

According to autopsy reports, Melanie Billings, 43, was shot twice in her chest, and also in the face and head. Byrd Billings, 66, was shot multiple times in the head and legs.

Investigators asked the boy whether his father called out any names before he was killed, but he could only use sign language to spell out three letters.

A 9-year-old boy asleep in another bedroom told investigators that he heard "seven booms and a scream."

Investigators have said the extensive surveillance system in the family's sprawling west Escambia County home captured the men, some of them in ninja garb, entering and leaving in less than four minutes.

The dozens of witness and suspect interviews reveal a complex investigation involving the suspects and their ties to Byrd Billings, his used car financing business, gangs, drugs and the Mexican underworld.

The safe taken from the family's home contained nothing of value, but a second safe that wasn't stolen had $164,000 in cash. An attorney for the family has said the suspects might have been targeting the second safe.

In his initial interview with investigators, Patrick Gonzalez, 35, the man investigators have described as the ringleader of the home-invasion and killings, suggested a group of car dealers with a grudge against Billings wanted him "whacked."

Gonzalez also told investigators that he and one of Byrd Billings' grown sons, Justin, had worked together as "enforcers" to get payments from people who had gotten behind.

Justin Billings and his friends were extensively interviewed. One friend said the son also believed his parents' deaths were a hired hit. Justin Billings told investigators he knew of gang members who wanted his parents dead.

The most heart-wrenching interview was April Spencer, who helped Melanie Billings care for the children and lived on the property.

Spencer said she spent the afternoon with the family and left after Melanie Billings had bathed two children and fixed dinner for the others.

(AP Photo/Phil Coale)
Photo: Pall bearers at the Byrd and Melanie Billings funeral carry one of the two caskets to the grave site, Friday, July 17, 2009, in Pensacola, Fla.

Around 7:30 p.m., the couple's 11-year-old daughter came to her home and told her "mom and dad are dead."

Spencer ran to the couple's home and could smell gunpowder.

"As I was walking toward the staircase you could see drops of blood," she said.

"Her son ... He's 10 years old and he's got Down syndrome, he was standing in the living room and pointing to um, his mom and dad's room. I went into the bedroom, Byrd Billings, 'Bud' was laying in front of the dresser, face down, it looked like he had had been shot in the head and Melanie was lying in front of the closet face up."

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  • Edecio Martinez

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