Seven men were arraigned this month for the murder of a Pensacola, FL couple in their home. The slain couple, Byrd and Melanie Billings, were well-known in the community because in addition to their own four biological children, they had also adopted 13 special needs children. Nine of those children were sleeping in the house when their adoptive parents were murdered.
It’s difficult to imagine the traumatic effect this crime will have on those children, who are now orphaned once again. Author Chelsey Shannon can imagine it, unfortunately, at least a little bit. After losing her mother to cancer at the age of six, Chelsey came home from a normal school day when she was 13 years old to find out that her father had been murdered during a robbery attempt. Chelsey became an orphan and a teen in crisis just days before her 14th birthday.
“I thought I had known distraction before, but nothing compared to my total inability to consider anything else but my father and his death,” Shannon writes in her book, titled “Chelsey,” which recounts the murder of her father and her effort to rebuild her life as a teenager without parents.
“In the beginning, I’d thought the grief would kill me – that it would be just too much to bear,” Chelsey says in her book. “I was alone. My family told me again and again I was not, but without him, I was. I was no longer anyone’s child.”
Grief is a difficult emotional process for anyone. But psychologists have found that often when death is sudden or violent, those left behind often experience a different kind of grief called “traumatic bereavement,” which is more complex because of the additional fear and horror associated with the tragic nature of the incident that caused the death.
Although there are many national support groups available for parents who have lost children to crime, there is not as much support easily accessible to children who have lost parents to crime. And when crime leaves a child without any parents at all, like it did with the Billings children in Florida, there are additional feelings of abandonment and betrayal, and very few resources to help these children cope with the extreme complexity of their loss.
Shannon hopes that her book will be one of those resources. Because it contains some very personal writings that Shannon did as part of her own grief process, the book provides unique insights for children of crime victims and orphans. The teen author will also provided additional insights about her book, her struggles, and her emergence from grief during a live web conference event, which was broadcast on more than 30 websites, and has been viewed more than 1,000 times. The teen fielded more than 300 qestions and comments from viewers during that event.
There has been no official statements made yet about the fate of the nine Billings children, or if there is a will with provisions in it about the care of the children in the event that both parents would be murdered in their home by seven men dressed as ninjas. It’s just not the type of situation that most people plan for.