Murder-suicide suspected in Burnsville fire

Brittany Givens-Copeland, a member of a prominent philanthropic family, and boyfriend Adam Williams were identified by friends as the two found dead.

Brittany Givens-Copeland had planned to break off her relationship with Adam Williams on Sunday night, her friends say. Within hours, firefighters found both their bodies after fire gutted his Burnsville apartment.

Givens-Copeland, 24, and Williams, 23, were found dead late Sunday after crews extinguished the blaze at the Woods complex at 14745 Portland Av. S. Autopsies were underway Monday evening in Hastings, and police were not yet saying how they died.

But detectives are investigating the case as a possible murder-suicide, with the fire being set after Givens-Copeland was killed, according to police and friends of the Givens family, which is one of Minnesota's most prominent and philanthropic families.

Monday morning, a police officer notified the family that Givens-Copeland was dead, and an officer told her younger sister of the suspicion that Williams had killed her, close family friends said.

Her family, however, believes she had gone to the apartment to comfort a friend distraught over being fired from his job.

Mandy Harri, 26, of Lakeville, said her friend, Givens-Copeland, had dated Williams but learned shortly after they began their relationship that she was five months pregnant by a previous partner. She and Williams had an on-again, off-again relationship, but in recent weeks, she hadn't seen him much, Harri said.

Harri worked with Givens-Copeland and Williams at the Red Lobster restaurant in Burnsville, where they were servers. Williams, however, had been fired from his job a couple of weeks ago and had started working at Champps restaurant nearby, Harri said.

Givens-Copeland, meanwhile, had little time for her relationship with Williams because she was busy with her baby boy, Christian, now 4 months old, and with college, Harri said. She had decided to try to work it out with the father of her child, so she was going to end her relationship with Williams, she said.

"She was going over there [Sunday] night to tell him," Harri said.

She said she has since heard through common friends that Williams called Champps on Sunday and said he'd had a death in the family and couldn't work. A Champps manager declined to comment Monday.

Williams also sent text messages to his friends on Sunday, Harri said. "Thanks for being such a good friend," she quoted them as saying.

Well-known family

While Williams was said to have little or no family in the area, Givens-Copeland was known by many. She was vivacious, attractive and doted on her son, friends said. She had attended college in Miami and her friends said she was well-traveled and artistic. She had been living with her mother in Bloomington.

Her family is populated by pioneers in Minnesota's black community. Givens-Copeland's grandparents, Phebe Givens and the late Archie Givens Sr., built successful businesses in nursing homes and real estate, becoming Minnesota's first black millionaires.

The Givens Collection of African-American Literature, named in their honor, is one of the nation's largest collections of black books and letters. It is housed at the University of Minnesota.

Givens-Copeland's father, businessman Richard Copeland, owns construction and trucking companies.

Her mother, businesswoman and civic activist Roxanne Givens, is a former board chairwoman at Ordway Center and Penumbra Theatre. She serves on the Bush Foundation board and is spearheading an effort to turn the 23-room Amos Coe mansion in Minneapolis into an African-American museum and cultural center.

Givens-Copeland's uncle, Archie Givens Jr., has served on the boards of many leading institutions, including the Guthrie Theater, the Weisman Art Museum and the Minnesota Humanities Commission. He is president-elect of the U of M's 64,000-member alumni association.

On Monday, Archie Givens Jr. prepared to fly to Arizona to break the news to his mother, Phebe Givens.

"It's a terrible loss -- one of the most tragic things a parent can go through," he said, recalling that he buried his own daughter, April, five years ago.

"We have a commitment to our community and ourselves," he said. "We'll continue to volunteer, to stay strong in Brittany's memory."

'She was avoiding him'

Over Christmas, Givens-Copeland, her son and her family had traveled to St. Maarten on vacation. Givens-Copeland did not know how to tell Williams she no longer wanted to see him, Harri said.

"She was avoiding him," Harri said. "She said she hadn't seen him since she got back from her vacation."

Givens-Copeland hadn't expressed any concerns for her safety, her friend said.

The apartment that burned, No. 216, had been rented to a single man for the past 10 months, according to Gwen Millard, the apartment building's manager. She declined to release his name or say whether he was one of the victims. She said she knew of no police calls or disturbances during his tenancy.

On Sunday night, there were no reports of any kind of disturbance until an alarm company reported a heat alarm going off shortly before 10:30 p.m. Two 911 callers also reported smoke.

When police and firefighters arrived, the apartment was engulfed by fire, which blew out a sliding-glass door and bedroom window. Once inside, authorities found the bodies. Police declined to say where in the apartment the bodies were discovered.

Eight other units were damaged and the building was evacuated. On Monday, the American Red Cross was helping four displaced families with emergency food, clothes and other assistance, said Courtney Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Minnesota.

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017

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