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Heartbroken Dad Speaks Out After Mo. Professor Kills 4 Kids and Herself in Intentional House Fire

The father of the younger two children called them the "greatest gift"

<p>Facebook</p> Bernadine Pruessner, 39; Ivy Pruessner, 9; Ellie Pruessner, 9; Jackson Spader; 6; and Millie Spader, 2,

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Bernadine Pruessner, 39; Ivy Pruessner, 9; Ellie Pruessner, 9; Jackson Spader; 6; and Millie Spader, 2,

The father of two of the four children killed in a Missouri house fire that was deemed a murder-suicide is speaking out and called his children the “greatest gift” that he could’ve asked for.

“They were the two most beautiful souls that a father could ask for, and they were a gift to our lives in every way,” Jared Spader said of his children Jackson, 6, and Millie, 2, in a statement to FOX 2 Now.

Jackson and Millie Spader were killed along with their sisters Ivy and Ellie Pruessner, both 9, and their mother, Bernadine Pruessner, 39, who police say intentionally started the fire in their Ferguson home.

"Preliminary investigation has revealed this to be a murder/suicide," the St. Louis County Police Department told PEOPLE in a statement. "It is believed that Bernadine intentionally set a mattress on fire as that was the point of origin for the fire. A note was also left stating Bernadine’s intentions to take her life and the lives of her children."

In his statement to Fox 2 Now, Jared Spader said he was focused on honoring his children.

“Jackson was the most incredible older brother, kind, intuitive and gentle,” Spader said, per the outlet. “He loved his sisters, being outside, sports, 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’s brother started a GoFundMe to raise money for a memorial service for children killed in the fire. It has raised nearly $50,000.

A service for the four children will be held Friday at a church in Chesterfield, Mo. Court records indicate that Bernadine had been engaged in custody battles with the two fathers of her children.

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In a statement from her family’s attorney, Nathan Cohen, Bernadine, who went by Birdie, “got to an awful place, one that resulted in tragic consequences,” as a result of the litigation, reported KMOV.

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

The statement added that Bernadine had been a professor in early education.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or go to 988lifeline.org.

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