Mother found dead with 4 children hours after posting ‘they have a heart for the Lord’

Celebrated Michigan educator, Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner, 39 (L), allegedly killed herself and her four children on February 19, 2024.
Celebrated Michigan educator, Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner, 39 (L), allegedly killed herself and her four children on February 19, 2024. | Facebook/Birdie Dorville

The family of a celebrated Missouri educator who killed herself and her four children Monday say she was driven to “darkness” due to “spurious litigation and unfounded allegations” by her former boyfriend and ex-husband in a contentious custody battle over their children who she said had a “heart for the Lord.”

Police say after responding to a house fire in Ferguson at about 4:23 a.m. on Monday, they found the mother, 39-year-old Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner, dead along with her four children,  9-year-old twins Ellie and Ivy, 6-year-old Jackson, and 2-year-old Millie. Their three dogs were also found inside the home.

Investigators, who say they have been shaken, along with their community by the tragedy, say Pruessner who goes by the name Birdie Dorville on Facebook, left a note behind stating her intention to kill herself and her children.

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“Please keep this family, our first responders and our community in your prayers as we all grapple with this horrific tragedy. Thank you to all of the responding houses and support teams for having our back,” the Ferguson Police wrote in a statement posted on Facebook on the night of the fire.

Celebrated Michigan educator, Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner, 39, was found dead in this house along with her four children and their three dogs on February 19, 2024.
Celebrated Michigan educator, Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner, 39, was found dead in this house along with her four children and their three dogs on February 19, 2024. | Ferguson Police Department

Just hours before the tragedy, Pruessner posted a picture of herself with her children on Facebook.

“Us against the world. I’m so blessed to be their mama. They have a heart for the lord and have overcome so much more in their little lives than they should have had to face,” she wrote on Sunday night.

In her final post on the social media platform just after midnight, Pruessner wrote: “All my kids, peacefully sleeping in my bed. Curled up together. Knowing they are loved so fiercely that I’d do absolutely anything for them. This is my favorite moment.”

Pruessner was a former math teacher at City Academy in St. Louis, according to the Kansas City Star, and she was named Missouri’s Teacher of the Year in 2013 by the American Board. She was also an author and assistant professor at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois.

In a statement from Pruessner’s parents shared on a GoFundMe campaign started by her friend, Brittany Perschbacher, they blamed the tragedy on Jared Spader, her former boyfriend and father of Jackson and Millie, and her ex-husband, David Pruessner, the father of Ellie and Ivy.

“Birdie got to an awful place, one that resulted in tragic consequences. The family wants you to know that she got to that darkness as a result of spurious litigation and unfounded allegations by her ex-husband and her former boyfriend,” they wrote.

“When Birdie requested to relocate closer to her ex-husband's residence, as her younger children became school age, her ex-husband filed a motion to prevent relocation. Her boyfriend, who had not even established legal rights to the children, joined her former husband to prevent relocation. Along with those motions, allegations and requests to change diminished Birdie's capacity as a woman and as a mother ensued,” the statement continued.

“She saw her children being used by their fathers as foils and she viewed the process and system for resolution of those claims as cumbersome, tedious, and never ending. Each day that Birdie would score a step forward, her ex-husband and or her former boyfriend would undertake an action to denigrate or undermine her role as a mother. Her ex-husband and former boyfriend were well funded by their incomes and assets and demonstrated a No Holds Barred when it came to attacking our daughter Birdie.”

The late mother’s parents admitted that their daughter tragically “made the wrong choice” in responding to the pressures that she faced.

“The family believes that Birdie would never have gotten to this place without the unending attacks on her by her ex-husband and her former boyfriend. We wish that [she] would have reached out and received help. We hope that Birdie's untimely death can be a reminder that even the strongest of us can use help in moments of crisis,” they said.

In a statement to 5 On Your Side, Jared Spader said he and David Pruessner are focused on honoring the lives of their children.

"What I would want everyone to know about my two wonderful children is they are the greatest gift that a father could ever ask for. Jackson was the most incredible older brother — kind, intuitive and gentle. He loved his sisters, being outside, sports (and) art, and he was always so in tune with the needs of others. Millie was a funny, charismatic, sweet, and kind little sister who brightened every moment of every day for all of us,” Spader said.

"They were the two most beautiful souls that a father could ask for, and they were a gift to our lives in every way. As dads, right now we have to focus on honoring the four beautiful lives, and we plan to do that together,” he added. “Our thanks go out to the community, people we know and many we have never even met, who have shown us incredible amounts of support. We will continue to need it."

Court records cited by First Alert 4 show Pruessner’s custody battle over her twin daughter with her ex-husband started with their 2017 divorce.

Pruessner alleged that her ex-husband “sexually abused” their daughter but he insisted the allegation is “unfounded” and accused his ex-wife of being “emotionally and physically abusive” to their child, among other things.

In the most recent filings in 2023, which continued days before the killings, Pruessner’s ex-husband applied for full custody of their children. Her ex-husband stated that she moved the children to a home in Creve Coeur owned by her mother, who he alleged has a “mental illness and refuses to get treatment.”

As Ferguson grapples with the tragedy of the killings, Chief Troy Doyle of the Ferguson Police Department said in a statement on Facebook that it touched him deeply.

“In the shadow of a tragedy that’s left an indelible mark on our town, the loss of Bernadine ‘Birdie’ Pruessner and her four remarkable children, Ellie, Ivy, Jackson and Millie, compels me to reach out,” he wrote.

“Though I didn’t know them personally, their story has deeply touched not only me but also the officers who were first on the scene, and indeed, our whole community. The first responders met with a situation that no training manual could ever prepare them for. It was a stark reminder of the unseen battles some of our neighbors are fighting and the critical need for empathy, compassion, and support from all of us,” he said.

“This incident has profoundly affected those who served that day, showcasing the vulnerability we all share as human beings. This moment of sorrow calls us to band together like never before. It’s a time to lean on one another, to listen with open hearts, and to offer a shoulder or an ear to those in need. We’re reminded that the strength of our community lies in our unity and our willingness to support each other through the darkest times.”

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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