Mom in custody battle kills four kids and herself in house fire, Missouri reports say

A house fire that killed a mother and her four children is believed to be a murder-suicide, Missouri police say.

The Monday, Feb. 19, fire at a Ferguson home killed 39-year-old Bernadine Pruessner and her four children — Ivy Pruessner, 9; Ellie Pruessner, 9; Jackson Spader, 6; and Millie Spader, 2.

In an update Wednesday afternoon, the St. Louis County Police Department said Bernadine Pruessner intentionally set the fire.

“It is believed that Bernadine intentionally set a mattress on fire as that was the point of origin for the fire,” police said. “A note was also left stating Bernadine’s intentions to take her life and the lives of her children.”

Three dogs were also found dead in the home, police said.

Neighbor Jerry McClure told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch “the smoke was so bad” and he attempted to kick in the front door of the home.

“We just couldn’t wake them up,” he said.

‘Us against the world’

Before the alleged murder-suicide, Pruessner spent Sunday with her children, planning to go to a reptile show, soccer game and camping out in their living room, she said on Facebook.

“Making today one of those live each day like it’s your last kind of days,” she said.

That night, she shared a photo of her family and said she was “blessed” to be their mother. “Us against the world,” she wrote in the post.

The fire was reported about seven hours later, police said.

The ‘ugliest’ custody battle

Pruessner was reportedly involved in court battles with the two fathers of her four children.

“I’ve been doing this for 36 years and this is probably one of the ugliest custody scenarios,” her attorney, Nathan Cohen, told KTVI.

Cohen said in a statement to multiple outlets, including KMOV, that Pruessner “got to that darkness” due to actions from her ex-husband and boyfriend. The attorney said the pair filed a motion to prevent Pruessner from moving her family closer to the ex-husband.

“Along with those motions, allegations and requests to change or diminish Birdie’s capacity as a woman and as a mother ensued,” the attorney said. “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.”

Cohen said Pruessner “made the wrong choice” but said it was fueled by her ex-husband and her boyfriend.

“We wish that Birdie would have reached out and received help,” Cohen said, KSDK reported. “We hope that Birdie’s untimely death can be a reminder that even the strongest of us can use help in moments of crisis.”

As of Feb. 22, the fathers have not publicly commented on the ongoing litigation or Cohen’s allegations. But in a statement to the Post-Dispatch, Jared Spader, the father of Pruessner’s two youngest children, called Jackson and Millie “the greatest gift that a father could ever ask for.”

“They were the two most beautiful souls that a father could ask for, and they were a gift to our lives in every way,” Spader said.

‘Stark reminder of the unseen battles’

Ferguson Police Chief Troy Doyle said in a statement Wednesday the deaths of Pruessner and her four children deeply touched him, as well as the first responders and community.

“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,” Doyle said. “This incident has profoundly affected those who served that day, showcasing the vulnerability we all share as human beings.”

He called upon the Ferguson community 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,” he said. “We’re reminded that the strength of our community lies in our unity and our willingness to support each other through the darkest times.”

Ferguson is about 10 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Young siblings found dead in possible murder-suicide, cops say. ‘Impacts us deeply’

Mom fatally shoots her sons in bed and leaves note for police to find them, PA cops say

Man killed fiancee and her daughters at 2 separate scenes, Illinois officials say

Leave a Comment