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  1. I know this one is a litle late, but there has been a tragedy that has rocked our Down's syndrome community accross the nation to the core. A couple in Florida were shot and killed execution style in their home while their children were present.

    I am just asking for prayers go out for this beautiful family. My heart is hurting for this entire family. The couple who were killed had adopted 12 children, six of whom had down’s syndrome. Apparently the children were home when it happened, but thank God none of the kids were hurt. At least not physically. The other tragic thing is that in 2005 they lost their 3 year old son in surgery because of a medical mistake. I pray these kiddo’s can find a loving home, and maybe even stay together.

    July 10, 2009

    Couple who adopted 12 children shot to death

    Home invasion suspected, deputies say

    Travis Griggs

    The couple who adopted 12 children and owned several local businesses were found shot to death in their bedroom in an apparent home invasion.

    Sheriff’s deputies found the couple after receiving a 911 call from the residence in the 9700 block of Mobile Highway about 7:30 p.m.

    Escambia Sheriff’s deputies said there were several children found at the Billings’ home Thursday night, ranging in age from an infant to 11 years old.

    Janice Thomas, circuit administrator for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said that as of this morning, her agency has not been contacted about becoming involved in the Billings’ case or taking over the care of the couple’s minor children.

    “We are aware the children are all with relatives.” Thomas said.

    Thomas said only three of the Billings’ children were adopted through DCF’s foster care system.

    “The others were adopted through other states,” Thomas said.

    Thomas said DCF has had some contact with the family in the past in relationship to providing services for the children in the family with developmental disabilities.

    Thomas said in general, DCF does provides post-adoption services for families, including counseling and access to resources.

    School bus driver Yvonne Hahn said she has driven the Billings family children to school for 20 years, and she rushed to the Billings home after she heard of the murder last night.

    “I went out there as soon as I heard,” Hahn said. “The kids are really attached to me. They’ve ridden on my bus ever since they came here. I kept asking the police to let me in because I could comfort the children. They just kept saying no.”

    Hahn said she stayed at the home until after 1 a.m., and she visited with three of the children as they were leaving with a relative.

    “They seemed alright, but they were upset,” Hahn said. “Matthew said that his mom and daddy got shot and killed, and they didn’t have a mom and daddy now,” Hahn said. “I said, ‘Yeah, they did honey, but they’ll always be your mommy and daddy,” Hahn said.

    “Katie just kept hugging me. She has Down syndrome, and she can’t talk, but she just kept hugging me,” Hahn said.

    The Billingses… featured in a Christmas Day story in the Pensacola News Journal in 2005. At the time, the couple were the proud parents of 16 children. Twelve were adopted — among them, children of drug users, children who were sexually abused and children with developmental disabilities. Six of the 12 had Down syndrome. Two had died.

    Roy would not confirm the identity of the victims Thursday night.

    But Nancy Markham, 60, whose son, Blue Markham, is married to the couple’s daughter, Ashley, identified the couple as the Billingses.

    “What do you say?” asked Markham of Pensacola. “Good gracious. They were very good people. I don’t know what’s going to happen to those children.”

    Deputies are searching for three men in a red van in connection with the homicide, Roy said.

    Investigators are examining surveillance tapes from the home. Roy said the vehicle the suspects were in may have been captured on tape.

    He said the suspects forced their way into the home.

    Markham said her son called her Thursday evening crying and asked her to immediately drive to the couple’s home.

    “He said Melanie and (Byrd) have been murdered. I understood him to say they were in their bedroom and they had been shot about six times,” Markham said.

    Markham and others gathered on the side of Mobile Highway as word of the couple’s death spread.

    “They were very loving people,” Markham said.

    Markham said she had known the couple for several years. She said Byrd Billings was generous. “He took pride in that,” Markham said.

    She said her son and his wife were high school sweethearts. “They dated for nine years and have been married for two,” Markham said.

    Several of the Billings’ children had attended the Escambia Westgate School, a public school for students with developmental and other disabilities.

    The school principal, Susan Berry, remembered the Billings’ as a generous, loving couple.

    “They were the most loving, giving people I’ve ever known and they gave totally all their love to all of their children,” Berry said.

    “My whole school is devastated at the loss and extremely concerned and worried about the children and what’s going to happen next.”

    Berry said because of privacy concerns, she could not say whether the Billings children still attended her school.

    Roger Mayo, the baseball coach at Escambia High School, said he has known the couple for several years. He said his daughter and Ashley Markham were cheerleaders in high school.

    “It’s a terrible, devastating loss,” Mayo said.

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