By now you’ve heard about the murder of a wealthy Pensacola couple named Byrd and Melanie Billings. They were found shot to death inside their nine-bedroom home this past Thursday night, the apparent victims of a robbery gone bad. Late Sunday night, police investigators announced the arrests of two suspects, though more are expected.
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said, “We are very anxious to share this story … it’s going to be a humdinger, I’ll tell you that.”
Actually, it already is. It’s just too bad that the Billings family is making more headlines in death than they did in life. The slain couple, Byrd and Melanie Billings, were the proud parents of 16 children — 12 of whom were adopted. Six of the twelve have Down Syndrome, several others were sexually abused and struggling with various developmental disabilities.
A blended family, Byrd had two biological children from a previous marriage. He also brought with him a son he adopted after his divorce in 1986. At the time, the one-year old boy had been abandoned, left behind on a dock. Nobody wanted the child — until Byrd learned about it. “I didn’t have to think about it,” he told a reporter in 2005.
Byrd’s new wife, Melanie, brought two biological children of her own into their marriage. One was a daughter stricken with cerebral palsy and autism. Hoping at first to find a companion for Nikki, the couple quickly changed their focus and began searching for children to love that others didn’t seem to care much about.
“I just wanted to give them a better life,” said Melanie of her adopted children. The adoption of “Matthew the Miracle” in 1999 started the ball rolling. He was 1 pound at birth and diagnosed as developmentally disabled. Doctors didn’t give him much much of a chance to ever walk or have use of his hands. Today, he is like any ‘normal’ ten-year old.
Bailey, the first child they adopted with Down Syndrome, arrived in 2001. Tragically, in 2004, the child was scalded by a malfunctioning water heater and later died after an air bubble in a tube caused the heart to stop beating.
In 2002, the couple adopted Tori, now 4. The next year, they adopted Tori’s siblings, Ricky, now 5, and Adrianna, now 7. The trio, neglected and abused by their parents, had been moved from one foster home to another.
Jacob, a twin with Down syndrome, also arrived in 2003 as well. Jacob’s biological parents kept his “normal” brother but had decided to place him up for adoption. At the time, Melanie was incredulous. “It’s hard for me to even think it. How could they not want him?”
Then there is Nicholas, Katie, Ethan, another child with Down syndrome and Emma, another girl with Downs whose biological Vietnamese parents said her extended family would never accept.
And now, their parents are dead, shot while eight of the kids slept, innocent victims once more. Ironically, reports suggest the home was well protected, with strong locks and security cameras in every room. But sometimes all the fortifications can’t keep us safe from the wickedness of the world. What an unspeakable, unfathomable, incomprehensible tragedy.
I suspect this is what Solomon was alluding to, the ill and broken state of this world, when he wrote, “Even in laughter the heart may ache and joy may end in grief” [Proverbs 14:13]. But somehow, someway, the Lord who commands the seas and even the birds of the air remains in full control of this utterly sad and horrific situation.
Because even when God doesn’t make sense to us, He still makes sense.
Let’s remember to pray for these children. And let’s continue to lift up those among us who feel led to guide and parent the orphan, adopt the seemingly unadoptable and see the value and dignity in every human life.