Here we go, Pensacola has been thrust into the national spotlight. As usual, not in a good way, either. A week ago, a wealthy, well-respected and -loved local couple was killed. This particular couple cared for 17 children, most of them adopted, many of them with “special needs.” Byrd and his wife Melanie Billings were known for their kindness, philanthropy, and donations to charity. They had a large home on a big piece of property just west of town. A disturbing fact of the crime was that it was committed in the evening, still during daylight, while many of the children were home.
HERE is a link to a pretty good story in the Pensacola News Journal.
We were shocked, of course. We learned right away that the killers were caught on a surveillance camera video. Released to the media, the tape showed an older, red Dodge van drive up to the house. Three people got out and went inside. The front door was not locked. There are still parts of the country where the need for that is not perceived. Very quickly, they came back out and drove away. Police did not say so, but I suspected there were other cameras around the place, maybe some inside the house as well.
Because if there are cameras outside, there are usually cameras inside too, and in this case there were. These reportedly show the actual shootings of the couple but were, understandably, not released to the media. However, a tape from another outside camera was released, and it showed four people dressed in “ninja” garb approaching and entering the house through an unlocked back door.
All in all, the intruders were in the house for about four minutes. Clearly, this was well thought-out, well-planned, well-rehearsed and well-orchestrated. The only glitch was that the security cameras had not been turned off. Police cannot explain why – they only say that the person in charge of doing so did not.
Our Escambia County Sheriff, David Morgan has been circumspect and terse, releasing only incomplete bits of information. On the day after the murders, he described the intruders as, “white.” A reporter pressed him: White males? Morgan gave him a steely stare. “White,” he repeated. “Just white.” Aha. Okay. Might not have all been men, I get it.
The arrests came quickly. The van was found immediately, of course. You can’t hide a big, red Dodge van, especially when it’s been plastered all over Channel 3 news. Sure enough, it was parked, semi-hidden behind a mobile home in a trailer park in town. Three people were in custody right away; more soon followed. So far, a total of seven are behind bars, including a sixteen year-old boy – maybe one or two more to go.
The obvious motive is robbery. The killers made off with a safe which was said to have been in the couple's master bedroom. But Sheriff Morgan likens this event to a movie, with numerous twists and turns to the plot. And it causes one to think: What does he mean? Was it just robbery…or something more? What do you keep in a safe that you would not (or cannot) deposit in a bank? It was noted almost in passing that among the law enforcement personnel involved in the investigation, there were members of the FBI and DEA participating too. DEA?
We are not surprised to find out that some of the people involved have extensive criminal records. Lots of jail time. Police say that the way that everyone (including the killers to the victims) is related to each other in this case is a complex web. In events like this, we never know the full story right away. It will come in time though – probably when the book is published.
You hate to hear about murders like this, especially when they happen in your backyard. Nobody likes to see their town portrayed in a bad light. If you live in, oh, let’s say New York City it’s not so bad because with all of the millions of people who live there you know a lot of bad stuff is going to happen.
But in sleepy southern towns like Pensacola we like to think we’re removed from, and maybe somehow immune to the type of ghastly crime that pervades “the big cities.” I don’t lock my door during the day, even if I have to go out. My shed in the backyard is always unlocked, and my Harley back there is usually unsecured, easy-pickings for someone with a pickup truck and a ramp. I think I live in a “fairly safe” neighborhood. It’s a myth, of course, a false sense of security. Bad people are everywhere, even here, even in Pensacola, Florida.
The only bit of comfort I get out of this case is that arrests were made so astonishingly quickly. Thank goodness for modern technology. In the old days, the bad guys might have gotten away with it. Or at least it would’ve been much harder to catch them. To their credit, Sheriff Morgan and his whole department worked tirelessly, around the clock and quickly rounded up the suspects. Who doesn’t like to see justice served?