PENSACOLA, Florida – Eight people have been charged in a precisely executed, deadly break-in at a Florida Panhandle home, but authorities are still seeking at least one more accomplice who they believe failed his assignment to disable the house's surveillance system.
Footage taken by the cameras helped lead investigators to the suspects in last week's shooting deaths of Melanie and Byrd Billings, who were known for adopting 13 children with special needs. The videos showed masked men — some dressed as ninjas — slipping into front and back doors at the home.
Police on Wednesday arrested an eighth suspect, 47-year-old Pamela Long Wiggins, charging her with accessory after the fact to felony murder, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said. Seven others have also been charged in the killings.
Morgan said the men spent 30 days training for what was a precisely executed break-in, save for the failure to turn off the couple's camera system. Before the crime, the extensive surveillance system was used to monitor the children.
"The execution was basically flawless," Morgan said. "The one gaping hole that would not have made this a perfect operation, if you will, was the fact that the surveillance system was not disabled. I guess the question was why was it not?"
Morgan said investigators think an accomplice or one of the seven suspects at the scene had been assigned to turn off the cameras, possibly remotely, but never did — and the men who broke in apparently didn't know that. Morgan said authorities expect to question two more "persons of interest" in the next couple of days.
The surveillance videos led investigators to a red van used as a used as a getaway car and eventually to the suspects, a loosely connected group of mostly day laborers who knew each other through a power washing business and an auto detailing operation.
They were in the nine-bedroom house for just four minutes and on the property for 10, Morgan said.
Morgan said the suspects took a safe from the house, though he would not say what was in it or what else was taken. Authorities have said the main motive was robbery, though there may have been others.
He said earlier that Wiggins is a friend and landlord to 35-year-old Leonard Gonzalez Jr., whom Morgan described as a "pivotal person" in organizing the break-in.
Morgan said Thursday that Wiggins led them to evidence, though he would not be more specific.
"We have obtained a lot of physical evidence as a result of the arrest of this witness," he told NBC's Today Show.
Gonzalez, who's charged with murder, proclaimed his innocence in court Tuesday.
State Attorney Eddins said the day before Wiggins' arrest that he will ask a grand jury to indict the suspects on first-degree murder charges. The male suspects range in age from 16 to 56.
David Melenkevitz, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said his agency is assisting with the investigation but would not comment further. He said Escambia County officials have also sought help from other federal agencies including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Nine of the couple's 13 adopted children were home during the break-in. Three saw the intruders but were not hurt. The couple also had four children from previous marriages.