Dark, grainy surveillance camera images from inside the home of a slain Florida couple show the moments before their deaths as gunmen dressed in black storm their house.
The images, taken at the home of Byrd and Melanie Billings, were shown Thursday to representatives from several news organizations. The Beulah, Florida, couple, known for adopting special-needs children, were shot to death in their home July 9. Seven men are charged with first-degree murder and home invasion robbery in their deaths, and an eighth suspect faces a charge of being an accessory after the fact. The images are from a time-lapse video, which provides a still image every three seconds. In all, 16 cameras were operating in the Billingses’ home at the time of the slayings, although not all recorded the events. Watch chilling crime scene images » Three or four men appear on the video holding long guns and handguns. It’s impossible to clearly identify any of them; authorities said they are working with FBI video enhancement units in an effort to better analyze the recording. Just moments before gunmen burst into the home, a small child is seen walking around the living room. The first gunmen to enter cannot be seen, but both Billingses are seen speaking to someone by the front door. Byrd Billings then throws his arms up in the air, and two men dressed in black appear behind him. Byrd Billings falls to the floor after being shot in the leg; Melanie Billings is seen reaching for and then clutching the child. One gunman picks up Byrd Billings from the floor and holds a gun to the back of his head. Billings is wearing a pair of shorts and is shirtless. The gunmen then escort the couple out of the camera’s range and into their bedroom, where police said they were slain.
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Meanwhile, a camera inside another bedroom shows another of the Billingses’ children, who seems to be between 10 and 12 years old. The girl is resting in her bed as the camera captures a van appearing in her window, with men running out of it and into the home. The young girl appears startled by the commotion. She walks to the door and then back to her bed, where she hides under the covers. At one point, she covers her ears with her hands and then walks back and forth from the door to the bed several times. Less than five minutes later, the gunmen are again seen in the window, climbing inside the van. The girl runs to the window to watch them piling into the van and driving away from the home. Media representatives were also shown crime scene photographs from the slayings. The photographs show Byrd Billings lying at the foot of his bed. He appears to have been shot multiple times in the face. Melanie Billings is seen lying on her back on the floor about 10 feet away. Under Florida law, once evidence is handed over to defense attorneys as part of the discovery process leading up to trial, it becomes part of the public record, and anyone is allowed to view the material. However, the video images and photographs were not released to the media because an attorney for the Billingses’ family had asked a judge to block the release. A judge agreed, citing privacy concerns for the children. As the media representatives saw the photos and video in a 2½-hour session, investigators from the state attorney’s office were close by, making sure no one was secretly making recordings. Also Thursday, redacted audio files from 911 calls made in reference to the slayings were released. In one call, a neighbor tells the operator that one of the Billingses’ daughters came over and “said the mother and father have been shot and they’re dead.” “Please come,” the neighbor tells the operator. “I gotta go get the kids. There’s kids in the house. … They’re in the bedroom, ma’am. They’re dead. Please come.” Another caller, apparently one of the Billingses’ older children who did not live in the home, told the operator, “I need someone to go out to my parents’ house. I was on the phone with my sister and trying to get in touch with them. She said they were on the bathroom floor, and there’s nobody there. She said they were dead, and I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
The caller said she had been asking her sister to take her parents the phone, “and she said, ‘I can’t. She’s on the floor. She’s dead.’ … And we have a neighbor, and I told her to go over and get the neighbor.” The Billingses each had two biological children and had adopted 13 children. Police have said nine of the children were home during the slayings, and several were believed to have seen the gunmen. One child managed to flee the home and seek help from a neighbor.