PENSACOLA — A Florida couple killed in their home had an extensive surveillance system in the house that recorded three apparently experienced criminals swiftly slip into the house before driving off in a red van, police said.
Several tips from the public led investigators to a red, 15-passenger van Saturday morning that they believe was used as the getaway vehicle by the three men, believed to be in their “late teens on up,” Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said.
Morgan announced at a news conference Sunday that they’ve arrested a man on a charge of evidence tampering in connection with the slaying.
Morgan said 52-year-old Leonard Patrick Gonzalez is accused of seeking to paint over the red van that authorities had spotted on the surveillance system.
Byrd and Melanie Billings of Beulah, a rural area west of Pensacola near the Alabama state line, were found shot dead in their home Thursday evening. The couple, known for their large family of adopted children, were killed as the children slept.
Morgan said authorities have reviewed the surveillance tapes repeatedly.
“I will share this with you — I think we were surprised by the rapidity of the crime,” Morgan said.
“It suggests experience to me.”
Officials still don’t know why the family was targeted, Morgan said. Police have not said whether anything was stolen from the home, which had nine bedrooms to accommodate the large family.
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.
The Billingses had 16 children, 12 of them adopted. Eight of the children, ages 8 to 14, were in the home when the couple was killed. Investigators interviewed the children, who 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,” she told the newspaper. “I just wanted to give them a better life.”