Stolen safe found; possible motive in deaths

PENSACOLA — Investigators have found a safe stolen during a precisely executed, deadly home break-in at the home of a wealthy Florida Panhandle couple, authorities said Thursday.

Melanie and Byrd Billings, who were known for adopting 13 children with special needs, were fatally shot last week. Surveillance cameras captured footage of masked men — some dressed as ninjas — slipping into front and back doors of their home near Pensacola.

Eight people have been charged — seven with murder and one with being an accessory after the fact

State Attorney Bill Eddins wouldn’t say where the safe was found, what was in it or what else might have been taken from the home.

He also said investigators have found several guns, including at least one they believe was used to kill the Billingses.

“In our opinion this was a home invasion robbery where the people stole a safe,” he said.

But Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said at a news conference with Eddins that other motives may emerge and there are still people investigators want to talk to.

“We have some people of interest that we’re continuing to look at and I can tell you that those are now numerous people,” Morgan said.

One of those people may have been someone who failed to carry out an assignment to disable surveillance cameras at the sprawling nine-bedroom home.

Morgan said a major hole in the investigation is why the cameras weren’t turned off, marring an otherwise perfect crime. The surveillance videos led investigators to a red van used as a getaway car and eventually to the suspects, a loosely connected group of mostly day laborers who knew each other through a power washing business and an auto detailing operation.

“It is a combination of friendships, casual business relationships that brought this group together,” Morgan said.

Morgan also confirmed that the Drug Enforcement Administration is assisting with the investigation, but he said the agency is not investigating the Billings family.