Florida couple's killing frustrating police authorities

By Marisol Bello
USA Today

With every clue, every witness and every surveillance tape, Escambia County Sheriff's investigators are asking as many questions as they can answer in the shooting deaths of a Pensacola, Fla., couple known for adopting 13 special-needs children.

Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot to death Thursday night after a home invasion and robbery that involved as many as seven men, Sheriff David Morgan said at a news conference Monday. Nine of their children were in the house but were unharmed, he said.

The investigation has police scrolling through MySpace, the social-networking website, and scanning surveillance tapes from a Wal-Mart where they suspect the men bought the clothing and gear they used in the crime.

"It seems each phase we complete in this investigation, we answer a set of questions, and it opens up another set of questions," Morgan said. "The complexity of it is amazing. We are speculating all over the map on this thing, and that's the frustrating part."

He said robbery was a motive but investigators are following various leads. Morgan would not elaborate. He said he was not aware of any previous contact between the suspects and the Billingses.

Police have arrested four men, including a father and son. Leonard Gonzalez II, 35, and Wayne Coldiron, 41, are charged with murder and home invasion. Gary Sumner, 30, is charged with murder, and Leonard Gonzalez Sr., 56, is charged with evidence tampering for allegedly painting over damage on a van videotaped by a security camera at the Billings' house Thursday. His neighbors alerted police after a description of the van was publicized.

Morgan said he sees no connection between the killings and a MySpace profile in the name of the younger Gonzalez in which the writer refers to a daughter he says was taken from him.

The profile was updated just after midnight Thursday, the day the Billingses were found dead in their rural Beulah home, 17 miles from Pensacola on the Gulf Coast.

The update said, "Making a move for humanity."

Police are searching for three others.

The person responsible for planning the crime is in custody, Morgan said, but he would not identify him.

The Billingses had been married 18 years and saw their life's work in adopting children, said their daughter, Ashley Markham, 26.

Each had two children when they married. They adopted 13 children who had been abused or neglected, or had physical or developmental disabilities, Markham said. "They chose a life that many people did not understand," she said. "They had a calling to adopt and to provide love to children that most did not see as normal. To my mom and dad, their children are perfect."

The family planned to have a funeral Friday and a visitation Thursday night, family attorney Crystal Collins Spencer said.

The couple were known for philanthropy and as the owners of several businesses, including a car dealership.

The nine children who lived at home and were in the house when the killings occurred are staying with relatives. Markham would not say where.

Three of the children saw the intruders, Morgan said. One ran out of the house when the assailants left and alerted a neighbor, who called police, Morgan said.

Surveillance cameras captured the intruders' movements and images of a van four of the men arrived and fled in. The elder Gonzalez told police he drove the van, according to an arrest warrant.

Morgan said the operation was conducted with precision: The men parked their vehicles. Three entered through the front door and two or three more through a rear door. At one point, as many as five men in black clothing and masks, at least two carrying guns, moved through the nine-bedroom two-story house. They were out in less than 10 minutes.

Morgan called the slayings "chilling." "It leads me to believe this was a very well-planned and methodical operation."

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