Mom In Ugly Custody Fight Burns Down Home With Her 4 Children Inside

Around four hours before police were called to a house fire, Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner posted that her kids were "peacefully sleeping" in her bed.

A Missouri mother who set her own home on fire, killing her four children, was in an “awful place” due to ongoing custody disputes with both her ex-husband and ex-boyfriend, her family told police this week.

Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner, 39, intentionally set fire to a mattress inside her home in Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday, in what was deemed a murder-suicide, according to a St. Louis County Police press release shared with HuffPost.

Police identified Pruessner’s children as Ellie and Ivy Pruessner, 9; Jackson Spader, 6; and Millie Spader, 2. Three dogs were also killed in the fire.

Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner and her children via Facebook
Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner and her children via Facebook

Birdie Pruessner made multiple social media posts about her children in the days leading up to the fire.

“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 wrote on Facebook, about four hours before police responded to the blaze.

Court records reviewed by HuffPost show that Pruessner was in a lengthy battle with her former husband to relocate their family, closer to school. In an interview with FOX affiliate KTVI, Pruessner’s attorney, Nathan Cohen, described the case as one of “the ugliest custody scenarios” he has witnessed.

Cohen said that Pruessner’s ex-husband, the father of her twin daughters, had objected to her moving into a family member’s home in Creve Coeur, Missouri, which would be closer to his home and the twins’ school.

According to the outlet, Pruessner’s ex-husband objected to the family member his ex wanted to move in with. He argued that the move was not in the kids’ best interest and would be “detrimental to their development, well-being, and safety.”

In a statement posted on GoFundMe, Birdie Pruessner’s family claimed her ex-boyfriend, who was the father of her two younger children, had “joined” her ex-husband’s efforts to prevent her relocation.

“She saw her children being used by their fathers as foils and she viewed the process and system for resolution of that those claims as cumbersome, tedious and never ending,” the statement read. “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.”

Despite the incident, Pruessner’s family described her as “a wonderful mother and a brilliant educator,” who “got to an awful place, one that resulted in tragic consequences.”

According to the family statement, Pruessner was witnessing her children “slowly and steadily suffering,” as she was going through the legal process.

“She viewed the children as being used by their fathers as a means to hurt Birdie at their expense,” the statement read. “Tragically, she made the wrong choice. Birdie was fiercely independent, rejecting our support accepting only our love.”

A spokesperson for Jared Spader, Jackson and Millie’s father, shared a statement on behalf of the grieving dad. It expressed that his children’s deaths have changed his life, and called the claims from Pruessner’s family “categorically untrue.”

“We felt, even in our depths of grief, we had to stand up and refocus the attention on the kids,” the statement said.

According to court records, the custody case was dismissed on Thursday, due to Pruessner’s death. An attorney listed as the ex-husband’s representative did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for a statement.

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text 988 or chat for mental health support. Additionally, you can find local mental health and crisis resources at Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.

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