House fire that killed Missouri mom, 4 children ruled murder-suicide

FERGUSON, Mo. — A devastating house fire that killed a Missouri mother and her four children Monday morning has been ruled a murder-suicide, authorities said.

Bernadine “Birdie” Dorville Pruessner, 39, of Ferguson, intentionally set a mattress on fire, igniting the blaze that killed her entire family, St. Louis County police officials told KSDK in St. Louis. Pruessner’s children have been identified as twin daughters Ellie and Ivy Pruessner, 9, son Jackson Spader, 6, and 2-year-old daughter Millie Spader.

>> Read more trending news

Pruessner, an assistant professor at Lewis & Clark Community College, left behind a suicide note stating her intentions, the news station reported. The day before the fire, Pruessner posted on Facebook a photo of herself with her children, declaring that it was “us against the world.”

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

Hours later, all five were dead.

Ferguson police officials said that officers responded around 4:23 a.m. Monday to reports of a house fire at 510 N. Clay Ave. When the officers arrived, firefighters had already found four of the victims dead inside the home.

A fifth victim, along with at least one family dog, was found a short time later.

Ferguson investigators called in detectives from the St. Louis County Police Department, which took over the investigation.

Court records show that Pruessner had been fighting in family court against the fathers of her children. A statement from her family obtained by KSDK stated that the “ongoing litigation” had taken a toll on Pruessner, who they described as a “wonderful mother and a brilliant educator.”

“Birdie got to an awful place,” the statement reads. “We wish that Birdie 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.

“We hope that even those who think they have it handled understand that they are not immune from suffering and doubt.”

The family wrote that they have been uplifted by the support of their daughter’s friends, acquaintances and the community at large. Ken Trzaska, president of Lewis & Clark Community College, said the professor’s college family is devastated by the loss of her and her children.

“Birdie was a dear colleague and friend to all. She cared so deeply about her students and about helping others,” Trzaska said. “She brought an energy and illuminated such a bright light of positivity and kindness to our campus community.”

Pruessner, who coordinated the college’s child development and education programs, was named Missouri Teacher of the Year in 2013 by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. According to KSDK, she was also a published author of a book on Montessori education titled “Making it Montessori.”

Pruessner’s parents wrote that, while they will never get their daughter or grandchildren back, they hoped that the tragedy would prompt those suffering in silence to get the mental health care they need.

“(Her family wants) to share with you that their daughter was happy, enjoyed life (and) was a success in all of her endeavors, including her career as a professor in early education,” reads their statement. “She excelled most in her compassion and care for her children. Birdie lived for her children and focused only on their happiness.”

Jared Spader, Jackson and Millie’s father, issued a statement on behalf of himself and David Pruessner, father of Ellie and Ivy.

“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,” Spader wrote, according to KSDK. “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 wrote that, “as dads,” he and David Pruessner are focusing on honoring the beautiful lives taken too soon.

“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,” the statement reads. “We will continue to need it.”

Ferguson police Chief Troy Doyle also spoke out about the tragedy, which he said has left an “indelible mark” on the community, particularly the first responders who were faced with a “situation that no training manual could ever prepare them for.”

“This moment of sorrow calls us to band together like never before,” Doyle wrote on Facebook. “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.”

He wrote that he, as chief of police, is committed to providing a police force that responds to the community with compassion and offers resources that ensure residents know there is help out there.

“In honoring Birdie and her children, let’s pledge to forge a community that’s not just safe but deeply connected, where every person feels valued and heard,” Doyle urged. “It’s time for us to come together, to support each other, and to heal as one.”

On Air101.5 The Vibe - Tampa Bay’s only R&B Logo

mobile apps

Everything you love about and more! Tap on any of the buttons below to download our app.

smart speakers

Ask your smart speaker to play 101.5 The Vibe.