A funeral service for the Florida couple slain during a break-in last week will be held Friday morning at the Pensacola megachurch they had attended as investigators continue to tie up loose ends.
According to Pastor Buford Lipscomb, the gathering at the Blue Angel campus of Liberty Church on Friday will be one to remember and honor the lives of Byrd and Melanie Billings as well as to heal and find hope.
"As a community, we gather ... not to mark the tragic and unfortunate circumstances of their death, but to celebrate a dad and mom, a husband and wife, a man and woman that succeeded in life and left behind a great example of relentless, sacrificial love for all of us to follow," Lipscomb said in an official statement sent Thursday to The Christian Post.
More than a week has passed since the Billingses were killed last Thursday after a group of men broke into their home in Beulah, Fla., while the couple and nine of their adopted children were inside. Eight people have since been charged – seven with murder and one with being an accessory.
"In our opinion this was a home invasion robbery where the people stole a safe," said State Attorney Bill Eddins. "It was as simple as that as to the motive."
The Billingses were well known in their community for their large family, which grew over the course of their 19-year marriage due to their desire to care for special needs children.
In total, the couple together adopted 11 children, adding to the two biological children that each of them had from previous marriages and two other children that Byrd Billings had adopted prior to their marriage. At least five of their children have Down syndrome and three have since died.
"Mom and dad devoted their lives in large part to educating others about children with special needs," recalled Ashley Markham, the 26-year-old daughter of the slain couple, during a news conference Wednesday. "They wanted to be the voice for the children without a voice. They wanted to give these children a chance. And they wanted to give them a childhood."
The Billingses were also known for the generosity they extended beyond their family
"Friends would tell you that mom and dad were willing to help when help was needed," said Markham, who is the biological daughter of Melanie Billings.
"We have lost two people that were truly trying to make the world a better place, one person at a time," she added. "The family plans to continue their legacy in the community as that is what we were taught to do."
Since the tragedy, people from around the country have been sending financial gifts for the nine younger Billings children, five of whom have Down syndrome and all of whom are disabled. As a result of the outpouring, a trust has been established for the children, whose ages range from 4 years to 11 years.
Amid ongoing investigations, the children have been cared for at an undisclosed location.
In her closing remarks Wednesday, Markham expressed the family's "deep heartfelt thanks to this community and to all who have kept us in their prayers."
"We will need them more than ever in the coming weeks," she said, before telling the press that she is willing to serve as the family's matriarch if that's what is needed to keep the family together.
"Though nothing will ever take away the pain, the love, prayers and support have helped us as we grieve," she added.
"We know that our parents are looking down on us upon from Heaven. We will continue to draw upon the memory of their warmth compassion, love, and strength as we continue through these difficult days. And we know they will be by our side every step of the way," she concluded.
Friday's memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. and was preceded the evening before by a public visitation.
A graveside service will be held at the Pensacola Memorial Gardens.
Editor's note: Donations to the "Billings Family Trust For Children" can be made at any local Compass Bank. For the location of the nearest branch, visit www.bbvacompass.com.
Checks can also be sent to the law firm representing the Billings family via the following address:
LOZIER, THAMES, FRAZIER & SPENCER, P.A.
Attn: Billings Family Trust for Children
24 West Chase Street
Pensacola, FL 32502