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The Student News Site of Hazelwood West High School

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Family of Five Burns in House FIre


People struggling with mental health are fighting battles that those who do not could never understand, but that doesn’t mean those who struggle should go unheard. Mental health is important because it includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Some people ignore the signs of mental illness and mistake it as being “crazy”. Most people also never take notice of the signs of mental illness in others.

Born in Missouri in 1985, Bernadine “Birdie” Pruessner devoted herself to education and earned herself recognition as Missouri’s Teacher of the Year in 2013. Pruessner made not only an inspirational impact on her students, but herself when she pursued a higher education, aiming for a doctorate in early childhood education.

Anyone struggling with mental illness can seem like a normal person living a normal, happy life. Though, that is not always the case.

Wrestling with  poor mental health, Pruessner, mother of 9 year old twin daughters, Elli and Ivy, 5 year old son, Jackson, and 2 year old daughter, Millie, sets a mattress on fire in her home with her young children sleeping soundly on Feb. 20, 2024. That Wednesday, the St. Louis County Police Department confirmed that investigators ruled the fire as a murder-suicide.

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

Around 12:15 that Monday morning–a few hours before the fire had broken out around 4:30–Pruessner posted about her children on Facebook.

“All my kids, peacefully sleeping in my bed…knowing they are loved so fiercely that I’d do absolutely anything for them,” Pruessner wrote. “This is my favorite moment.”

On Sunday, the Lewis & Clark Community College professor shared a grinning selfie of the young ménage.

“Us against the world. I’m so blessed to be their mama,” she captioned the photo.

“Making today one of those live each day like it’s your last kind of days!” Pruessner also wrote, while detailing her plans to take the children to a soccer game and a reptile show.

Around the time of her death, Pruessner was in the middle of a rough ongoing litigation with her ex-husband, the father of her elder daughters. Pruessner and her ex-husband, David Pruessner, divorced in 2017, and shared joint custody of the twins through 2023 which was 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. Pruessner had also been facing a custody battle with her ex-boyfriend, Jared Spader, who was the father of the younger two children.

The lawyer of Pruessner, Nathan Cohen, had never once had a suspicion that his client was a danger to herself, or to 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.

“Last week, the ex-husband pulled another move. The last thing I said (to her) was ‘Don’t worry, Birdie, we’ll kick this one down, too’…apparently I missed every sign.” Cohen lamented.

This shows just why mental health is important and should never be ignored. Pruessner was suffering mentally, and no one noticed before it was too late. A person struggling with mental health can look like a normal person. If a mentally ill individual goes without help for a long period of time, that can lead to an awful outcome. For example, murder, which is exactly what happened with Pruessner. Her ability to perceive risks was diminished and her vulnerability grew. It’s honestly a sad story on both sides. What happened to the children is unforgivable, but it is also tragic that Pruessner was so ill that she murdered her children. People should always look out for signs of mental illness and speak up. Whether it be a friend, yourself, or a family member, seek help before it is too late.

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About the Contributor
Aydenn Sutton
Aydenn Sutton, Staff Writer
My name is Aydenn Sutton. I am a junior here at West high school! I play varsity softball for our school and have played on varsity since my freshman year. I am our school’s varsity catcher. I am also a part of the student council committee and will be playing soccer this year. A few hobbies that I have are watching horror movies, reading psychological thriller books and softball. I am excited for newspaper because not only will I be given the opportunity to really put my writing ability to the test, but because I will also learn new ways to write for my future writing career.
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