News

Cameras captured ‘chilling’ Fla. break-in

PENSACOLA — Byrd and Melanie Billings had a growing brood of adopted children with autism, Down syndrome and other disabilities, and took care to make their nine-bedroom house a safe place for them, wiring it with surveillance cameras in every room.

It was those cameras that captured images of the masked men who shot the wealthy couple to death in a break-in executed with chilling precision.

Authorities made three arrests over the weekend, but the mystery around town only deepened Monday, when Sheriff David Morgan said that as many as eight people in all may have been involved and that the crime appeared to have “numerous motives,” though robbery was the only one he would mention.

“Mr. Billings was well-to-do. He was an entrepreneur and he opened his home to the community. You are asking me to speculate on a motive. That could have been one reason,” Morgan said, likening the killings to the 1959 slayings of a Kansas farm family that were chronicled by Truman Capote in the book “In Cold Blood.”

The video from last Thursday showed three armed, masked men arriving in a red van, entering through the front of the house and then returning to the vehicle. Others dressed in what the sheriff called “ninja garb” went in through an unlocked utility door in the back. They were in and out in under 10 minutes.

“I think you’ll find this particularly chilling and here’s why: We have a team that enters at the rear of the home and another that enters at the front of the home,” Morgan said.

“It leads me to believe this was a very well-planned and methodical operation.”

The surveillance system was installed to help the couple keep track of their children as they wandered through the large house and yard, said Susan Berry, principal of Escambia Westgate School in Pensacola, which some of the children attended.

Tips from the public led police to the van on Saturday. Day laborer Wayne Coldiron, 41, turned himself in on Sunday, and Leonard P. Gonzalez Jr., 35, was arrested the same day in a neighboring county. They were charged with murder and home invasion.

— Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

  Comments