Daughter: Adopted Children of Slain Florida Couple Will Stay Together
Ashley Markham said that the nine children in the care of a Beulah, Fla., couple murdered in their home Thursday will remain together.
The adopted children of Byrd and Melanie Billings are with friends and family at an undisclosed location, Markham said at a news conference Monday morning in the lobby of a family attorney's office in downtown Pensacola.
"We plan to carry on their legacy," she said, reading from a three-page, prepared statement. "We children have experienced a loss that is unimaginable, but as a family, we will pull together. We'll take each day one at a time. Our most important concern right now is upholding the wishes of my parents. We are fully prepared to do that. The family is capable of following through with those wishes."
Lee Gonzalez Jr. and Wayne Coldiron were arrested by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office Sunday and charged with an open count of murder in the deaths of the Billingses in the small community of Beulah, northwest of Pensacola near the Alabama state line.
Gonzales' father, Leonard P. Gonzalez Sr., 56, is charged with evidence tampering; his arrest report says he admitted to driving the alleged assailants to and from the Billings home. They were arrested in Escambia County Sunday and are expected in court Monday in Pensacola.
Markham said she has no knowledge of any connection between the arrested men, her parents or any of the children in the household.
"The people who have been arrested, we have no knowledge of them," she said. "That's all I know."
Markham and family spokeswoman Crystal Collins Spencer, a local attorney, said they are both reluctant to give further details about the children's whereabouts, mindful that Escambia County Sheriff's investigators have said more arrests could follow.
"We just want to protect them from everything as much as possible," Spencer said. "You have to recognize while there have been no specific threats you want to err on the side of caution in particular circumstance. This was an extremely violent act upon this family. We can't begin to understand motive or theory, so all precautions are being taken."
Markham, who was accompanied by her husband, Blue, said her parents had 17 children, four biological, and that nine were present in the home the night of the shootings.
No funeral arrangements have been made.
Markham struggled to speak at times, her husband stood with his arm in the small of her back. She spoke fondly of her parents and their love for all of their children.
"Those who have met any of the Billings children know how well-behaved and well-mannered they are," she said. "Our parents taught us to love despite difference in people."