Former "teacher of the year" started "suspicious" fire that killed her 4 young kids hours after posting "live each day like it’s your last"

Friday, February 23, 2024
 – A Missouri teacher of the year started the “suspicious” fire that killed her four young kids just hours after she posted on social media about living “each day like it’s your last,” cops say.

Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner and her children – twins Ellie and Ivy Pruessner, aged 9, 5-year-old Jackson Spader, and 2-year-old Millie Spader all died in the fire at their home in Ferguson on Monday morning, Feb. 19.

Their death came just moments after Bernadine shared Facebook posts that seemed innocent but have now shown her intent to end their lives.

In one post, she wrote: “Making today one of those live each day like it’s your last kind of days! Breakfast, reptile show, soccer game, and living room camp out on the agenda plus whatever other shenanigans bring us joy. Happy Sunday. Thank God the sun is shining.”

Another was a photo of Bernadine and her children and she captioned it, “Us against the world. I’m so blessed to be their mama. They have a heart for the lord and have overcome so much more in their little lives than they should have had to face.”

Her last post ever reads: “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 favourite moment.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, the St. Louis County Police Department confirmed that investigators ruled the fire a murder-suicide.

“It is believed that Bernadine intentionally set a mattress on fire as that was the point of origin for the fire,” the office announced.

“A note was also left stating Bernadine’s intentions to take her life and the lives of her children,” the statement read, without elaborating on the contents of the note.

At the time of her death, Bernadine Pruessner, a Lewis & Clark Community College professor, was in an “awful place” due to “ongoing litigation” with her ex-husband and the father of her twin daughters, a statement from her loved ones circulated on GoFundMe explained.

Pruessner and her ex, David Pruessner, divorced in 2017 and shared joint custody of Ivy and Ellie through last year, when the father filed to block Pruessner’s plans to relocate to about 10 miles away to the St. Louis suburb of Creve Coeur, according to court records.

Even though the new home would be closer to him, David Pruessner was concerned about his ex-wife’s proximity to her mother, whom she had allegedly described as “psychotic,” the documents showed.

“The first case that I’ve ever had where the parent objected to the other parent moving closer to the other parent,” Bernadine Pruessner’s lawyer, Nathan Cohen, told The Post.

Pruessner was also facing a custody battle with her ex-boyfriend, Jared Spader, who was the father of Jackson and Millie.

“[David and Jared] coordinated their efforts,” Cohen claimed. “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,”  Bernadine's family’s 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,” they added.

Cohen said he agreed with the family’s statement and noted that Bernadine Pruessner earned “less than $60,000 a year” and struggled to keep up with the costs of the legal jockeying.

Even so, Cohen said he never suspected that his client, who was awarded the Missouri Teacher of the Year Award from the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence in 2013, was a danger to herself or her children.

“It’s really strange,” he said of the murder-suicide ruling.

“This entire week I’ve been asking my staff, did I miss it? She was one of the rare clients you get in family law that is not only upbeat but was not putting on a show,” he added.

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