New: Officials Call Deadly Ferguson, MO, Fire 'Suspicious'

Feb. 20, 2024
A mother and her four children were killed in the house fire early Monday.

Mike Stunson

The Charlotte Observer


A mother and her four children were killed in a house fire that has been deemed “suspicious” by Missouri authorities.

The fire was reported at 4:20 a.m. Monday, Feb. 19, at a home in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, according to the St. Louis County Police Department.

Photos shared by the Ferguson Police Department show smoke fill the home. The smoke was visible for miles, KTVI reported.

Firefighters found the bodies of five people inside the home, police said. There were also three dogs who were found dead.

“The smoke was so bad. I tried to kick the front door,” Jerry McClure, a neighbor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We just couldn’t wake them up.”

The victims were identified by KMOV as Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner and her four children: 2-year-old Millie, 5-year-old Jackson and 9-year-old twin girls Ellie and Ivy.

A cause for the fire is unknown, but authorities told the Post-Dispatch and KTVI “suspicious” circumstances were involved. The investigation is ongoing.

’A tragedy for our community’

Pruessner, a former math teacher at City Academy in St. Louis, was named the Missouri Teacher of the Year in 2013 by the American Board.

More recently, she was an assistant professor at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois, according to Metro East Star. She is also a published author and the founder of a nonprofit, Root Cause Agricultural Education Group.

“Birdie was a dear colleague and friend to all. She cared so deeply about her students and about helping others,” Lewis and Clark President Ken Trzaska said in a statement, Metro East Star reported. “She brought energy and illuminated such a bright light of positivity and kindness to our campus community.”

Pruessner was nearing the completion of her doctorate degree in early childhood education, her father told the Post-Dispatch, referring to her as “brilliant.”

Dara Ashby of the Ferguson Animal Coalition called the deaths of Pruessner and her children “a tragedy for our community,” KSDK reported.

“She was a wonderful person and loved her kids, loved her family, loved her animals,” Ashby told the station. “She was just a treasure to our community. So this is a huge loss.”

’Live each day like it’s your last’

Before her Monday morning death, Pruessner spent Sunday with her children, going 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.

Pruessner and her children were referred to as a “beautiful family” by one friend.

“None of this seems real, today has been really really hard. How could Birdie, Elly, Ivy, Jack and Millie be gone?” Allison Nichole Fox said in a Facebook post. “Birdie was an incredible mother and had the brightest light always surrounding her.”


©2024 The Charlotte Observer. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.