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Parents to 16 Slain for Nothing

(Pensacola News Journal )
Photo: Byrd and Melanie Billings

PENSACOLA, Fla. (CBS/AP) The plan was robbery, but it escalated to something much more heinous... the murder of a Fla. couple, who were raising 16 children - 12 of them adopted and many with disabilities.

That's what Pensacola police now believe happened last Thursday when Byrd and Melanie Billings were murdered in their beds, while eight of their children slept.

Police have now taken two men into custody on murder charges and a third man for tampering with evidence.

Day laborer Wayne Coldiron, 41, turned himself in to Escambia County authorities and Leonard P. Gonzalez Jr., 35, was arrested in neighboring Santa Rosa County, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.

Earlier Sunday, authorities charged Gonzalez's father, Leonard P. Gonzalez Sr., with evidence tampering. Police said the 56-year-old tried to paint over and hide damage on a red van that was spotted on surveillance video leaving the home where the Billings were shot to death Thursday. Eight of the couple's children were asleep in the house when the shootings took place.

The wealthy couple was well-respected in the area for providing a home for children with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental problems, and "especially Melanie has been referred to as an angel," the sheriff told the CBS "Early Show."

Video: Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan interviewed on CBS' The Early Show.

Morgan told ABC's "Good Morning America" that the crime happened quickly.

"We were very surprised by the rapidity of this operation. It was carried out with military precision, I'll tell you that," he said.

More arrests are expected, and more charges could be added for those already in custody.

The elder Gonzalez told investigators that he was the getaway driver and waited in the van while the others broke into the Billings' house and burglarized it, according to warrants released late Sunday. He also told police several other men were involved.

The surveillance video shows three armed, masked suspects arrive in the van, enter the house and then return to the vehicle, the warrants said.

The Billings were killed in their spacious, nine-bedroom home in a rural area west of Pensacola near the Alabama state line.

The house had an extensive surveillance system that authorities said captured the break-in. Tips from the public led police to the van Saturday.

Morgan said the investigation involves a complex web of relationships between suspects, though he declined to elaborate on them. He said it did not appear that the suspects knew the victims. The younger Gonzalez and Coldiron are friends, the warrants said.

(AP/Bruce Graner, News Journal)
Photo: Escambia County Florida police removed a red van they suspect was used in the double murder from behind a shed where it was discovered Saturday evening July 11, 2009 in Pensacola, Fla.

"We are very anxious to share this story ... it's going to be a humdinger, I'll tell you that," Morgan said Sunday.

The Billings had 16 children, 12 of them adopted. The children who were there during the killings, ages 8 to 14, were interviewed by police and are now staying with other family members.

The couple married 18 years ago and each had two children from previous marriages. They eventually started adopting children with developmental disabilities and other problems.

The house was carefully designed to accommodate the children, according to a 2005 story in the Pensacola News Journal. A camera was in every room, and the driveway was long to keep the kids from running into the street. A large swimming pool behind the house was gated.

The couple told the newspaper they wanted to share their wealth with children in need, but didn't imagine their family would grow so large.

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

Coldiron was expected to appear in court Monday. No time was immediately available for the appearance. Because the younger Gonzalez was arrested in a neighboring county, he will have to appear there first.

They were charged with open murder because the investigation is ongoing and more charges may be added, Morgan said.

Bond for the elder Gonzalez was set at $250,000. A message seeking comment was left at a phone number listed for him in the Pensacola area.

July 10, 2009 - Parents of Sixteen Slain

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