Fla. Couple Who Adopted 12 Children Found Slain

Investigators asked the public to be on the lookout Friday for a red van they believe carried three men involved in the deaths of a Florida Panhandle couple, shot in their rural home while eight of their children slept.

Surveillance cameras from the home of business owners Byrd and Melanie Billings showed the presence of the van at their home in Beulah, a rural area west of Pensacola near the Alabama border, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. The children were unharmed.

The sheriff's office, in requesting the public's help, released a enhanced but still grainy photograph of a red, 15-passenger van dating to the late 70s or early 80s.

Morgan said investigators did not know who killed the wealthy couple known for adopting children with developmental disabilities, many born to drug-addicted mothers. But they said they wanted to question the three men suspected of involvement in the crime.

"It would be pure speculation. We same many random acts of violence now. We just don't know," he said.

Investigators are also awaiting autopsy results on the couple to learn more about the killings, he added.

Morgan said eight of the children, ages 8 to 14, were in the home when the couple was killed and found safe. A woman who lives in an outlying building and helps care for the children called emergency dispatchers from the home and reported the killings Thursday evening.

Authorities have said deputies had to wake some of the children after they entered the home.

Investigators interviewed the children, who are now staying with relatives, and other family members Friday, Morgan said.

The Billings had 16 children, 12 of them adopted. They married 18 years ago and each had two children from previous marriages. The Billings then began adopting children with developmental disabilities and other problems and shared a nine-bedroom home with them.

In a 2005 story from the Pensacola News Journal, the couple said they wanted to share their wealth with children in need, but didn't imagine their family would grow so large.

"It just happened," Melanie Byrd told the newspaper. "I just wanted to give them a better life."

The story said the family's nine-bedroom home had a complete alarm system with sensors and cameras in every room.

Morgan said authorities had reviewed video footage from the cameras and were using the information in their investigation.