Sheriff: DCF Was Warned about Spirit in 2013 Case

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News Release: Associated Press
September 29, 2014

BELL, Fla. (AP) -- Alachua County's sheriff says Florida's child welfare agency was warned in 2013 that a man who fatally shot his daughter and six grandchildren should be kept away from them.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell tells The Gainesville Sun that last year, three of the six children killed were interviewed by a child protection team that warned Florida's Department of Children and Families that Don Spirit should have no contact with his grandchildren.

Spirit shot the victims Sept. 18 in Bell before killing himself.

Darnell says DCF was advised during the 2013 child abuse investigation by a University of Florida child protection team.

DCF spokeswoman Alexis Lambert refused to comment to the newspaper, citing the ongoing investigation into the case. A message left Monday by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

News Release: Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office
September 23, 2014

The following press release has been issued by the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office:

The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announce that the murder/suicide investigation into the deaths of Kylie Kuhlmann (4-16-05), Kaleb Kuhlmann (5-20-03), Johnathan Kuhlmann (3-19-06), Destiny Stewert (9-27-08), Alanna Stewart (6-28-14), Brandon Stewart (6-28-14), Sarah Lorraine Spirit (1-14-86) and Don Charles Spirit (12-11-62) is in its final stages. The 911 phone call, which was made by the shooting suspect (Don Charles Spirit), is being released in accordance with Florida State Statues.

On 09-18-2014, at approximately 4:00pm, Don Spirit made a 911 call to the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office and indicated that he had killed his six (6) grand children and his daughter, and stated that he would kill himself when law enforcement arrived on scene. When deputies arrived in the area of the residence, verbal contact was made with the suspect. After a brief verbal exchange, the suspect sustained a self inflicted gunshot which resulted in his death. As of this time, no clear or definitive motive can be determined.

Preliminary autopsy results indicate that all deaths were the results of gun shots from a .45 caliber hand gun. A .45 caliber handgun was recovered in close proximity to the suspect. All of the children’s bodies were located in various locations inside the residence, while the bodies of the two adults were found outside the residence in separate locations on the property. The final autopsy report will not be complete for several weeks.

The investigation has revealed that Don Spirit was a convicted felon, and federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities are investigating how he may have obtained the firearm.

As stated before, this tragic and devastating event may never be fully explained. We would continue to ask everyone to keep the victims family, friends, classmates, and the community of Bell, Florida in their thoughts and prayers.

911 Phone call attached.

News Release: Associated Press
September 23, 2014

MIAMI (AP) -- State child welfare officials say they had been investigating a Florida man for two weeks before he fatally shot his daughter and six grandchildren.

The Department of Children and Families said Monday that someone called the abuse hotline on Sept. 1 complaining that adults were using drugs in front of the children.

The department says 28-year-old Sarah Spirit told investigators she had tested positive for drugs and was arrested for violating probation. When she was released, Spirit and the children went to live with her father.

Authorities say 51-year-old Don Spirit called 911 Thursday warning he might hurt himself or others. Authorities say he then killed Sarah and his grandchildren and himself.

Officials said father and daughter were the focus of several past abuse and neglect investigations.

News Release: Associated Press
September 22, 2014

BELL, Fla. (AP) -- Family and friends gathered at Bell High School to remember six children who were fatally shot by their grandfather.

Some 100 people viewed toys and photos displayed inside the school's auditorium on Sunday evening.

Authorities say 51-year-old Donald Spirit also killed his daughter, 28-year-old Sarah Spirit on Thursday afternoon at their north Florida home.

The Rev. Jimmy Corbin of Mount Nebo Baptist Church told mourners "the world itself has been touched by the tragedy that happened in this town." He says a pastor from the Cayman Islands had called to offer comfort.

The Gainesville Sun reports a candle-lighting ceremony followed the service outside Bell Elementary School. School officials say they plan to plant seven live oak trees on school grounds in honor of the family.

By: Lanetra Bennett
September 19, 2014

Bell, FL - Law enforcement and residents in Gilchrist County are still trying to make sense of a murder-suicide in the tiny town of Bell, Florida.

Not even 500 people live in Bell in Gilchrist County. Now there are eight fewer.

Authorities say 51-year-old Don Spirit is responsible for killing seven of them, then killing himself. Those seven people were his own daughter-- 28-year-old Sarah Spirit -- and her six children.

Tate Bryant lives down the road. He says, "We're saddened and just deeply regretting to hear that this happened in a small little community of good, Christian people. The loss of six beautiful children is something that nobody can fathom."

The sheriff says Spirit called 911 around 4:00 Thursday afternoon and said he was going to hurt someone and himself. When deputies arrived to the home on Northwest 29th Terrace, Spirit shot himself.

Sarah and the kids were found dead inside. Here are the children's names and ages:
Alanna 3 months
Brandon 4
Destiny 5
Jonathon 8
Kylie 9
Kaleb 11

Area resident, George "Mikey" Hammontree, says, "They're awesome. I like them kids. I always go out there and play with them. We always had fun."

Residents are not only saddened by the murder-suicide, some say they're angry. They say they want to hold someone accountable but, they can't because Spirit "took the coward way out."

Ruby Cissell says she may be one of the last people to see Sarah alive. She says she went to pick Sarah up Thursday to take her to a food drive. She says Sarah walked away to speak to her dad. "Sarah came back a little bit passed the curtain and pulled it back and told me whatever I did to come back after the food drive and get her and her kids and check on her kids. She was crying. Tears were running down her face." Says, Cissell.

Cissell says she went back to the home a little later, but Sarah's father told her she was sleep. Later, Cissell found out Sarah was dead.

"Sarah was a fantastic mother. She loved her kids." Cissell, says.

Area resident Bill Shaffer says, "It brought tears to my eyes and I'm a very easy guy to bring tears to your eyes. That was sad. That's just a senseless crime; took the lives of innocent humans that were harmless."

Cissell says, "It is so wrong. It shouldn't have happened to Sarah and it sure shouldn't have happened to them little children."

Cissell told me that there's an aunt that also lives in the home with the Spirits. She says thank goodness she was not home during the shootings.

We're told the community is in the process of setting up an account with Capital City Bank to help the family.

Governor Rick Scott visited Bell Friday. He said what happened was a tragedy and that his prayers are with the family and the entire town.

Update: Associated Press
September 19, 2014

BELL, Fla. (AP) -- Teachers, staff members and students are grieving the deaths of six children who were killed by their grandfather in the small, north Florida city of Bell.

Authorities say 51-year-old Don Spirit killed the children and their other Thursday afternoon before taking his own life after a Gilchrist County Sheriff's deputy arrived at the home.

Superintendent Rob Rankin says four of the children attended Bell Elementary School, which has 540 students. They were enrolled in kindergarten, second, third and fifth grades. A teacher says she put the children on a bus at 3 p.m.

During a news conference on Friday Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz said Don Spirit was not a legal gun owner and wasn't on community control at the time of the shootings. He didn't elaborate.

News Release: Associated Press
September 19, 2014

BELL, Fla. (AP) -- Authorities say a man who spent time in prison a decade ago for the shooting death of his young son killed six of his grandchildren, his adult daughter and himself in a rampage at a home in the small Florida town of Bell, about 30 miles west of Gainesville.

Don Spirit called 911 Thursday afternoon. Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz says Spirit committed suicide when a deputy arrived. The bodies of his daughter and her six children were found on the property.

Jail records show that his daughter, Sarah Lorraine Spirit, had been on probation for a 2013 grand theft arrest.

Don Spirit had a criminal record in Tampa, where he was arrested in 1990 on a felony fugitive warrant. Other arrests include misdemeanor battery, drug charges and depriving a child of food and shelter

By: James Buechele
September 18, 2014 - 11pm

Bell, Florida - The Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office has confirmed that 51-year-old Don Spirit shot and killed his daughter Sarah, as well as his six grandchildren.

Spirit called 911 earlier Thursday saying that he was going to hurt himself and others. When deputies arrived, Spirit shot himself, leaving him the 8th victim in the case.

Spirit has a long rap sheet. He was arrested before and Sheriff's Deputies tell Eyewitness News they actually came to the site several times before. They say nothing in their estimation would lead them to a mass murder-suicide like the one that played out Thursday afternoon.

The town of Bell, Florida is actually very tiny. Less than 500 people live in the town. It's about 45 minutes west of Gainesville, Florida and a little more than a two hour drive from Tallahassee.

The Sheriff's Office is hoping that the community can come together and heal after this terrible tragedy.

"As I said before, we're resilient," said Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz, III. "We have one of the best school districts in the state of Florida, if not the country. We have some good top notch individuals who work in the county who live here and we will get past this. But tomorrow is going to be a hard day, and any additional prayers that you can offer, if you're prayerful, we citizens of Gilchrist County would certainty appreciate it."

The Sheriff's Office continues its investigation into why Spirit shot his six grandchildren and his daughter.

Gilchrist County Schools will be open Friday. Grief councilors will be on hand.

Update: Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office
September 18, 2014 - 9:45pm

28-year-old Sarah Lorraine Spirit was the daughter of Don Charles Spirit and mother of the six children killed.

News Release: Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office
September 18, 2014 - 8:30 p.m.

Gilchrist County Sheriffs office has confirmed 51-year-old Don Charles Spirit killed his six grandchildren, his daughter and then shot and killed himself.

The children were between the ages of three months and ten-years-old.

The call about the shooting came in at 4pm Thursday at a home off of NW 30th Street in Bell, FL.

Spirit called 911 himself and referenced harming people and himself.

A deputy arrived on scene and made contact with Spirit before he committed suicide.

Spirit does have a criminal history, but the Gilchrist Sheriff's Office did not have more information.

Deputies have been called out to the residence in the past for a “wide range of things”.

The Sheriff’s Office is working with neighboring Sheriff’s Departments and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Gilchrist County School will be open Friday, September 19th.

Update: Associated Press
September 18, 2014 - 7:30pm

BELL, Fla. (AP) -- Media outlets are reporting that a shooting in north Florida could involve multiple fatalities.

The Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office has confirmed to The Associated Press that it is investigating a shooting in the town of Bell Thursday and that a news conference has been scheduled for 8 p.m. WCJB-TV says police are classifying it as a major shooting.

It wasn't immediately clear how many people were shot or their ages and genders.

Bell is small town of just 350 people about 30 miles west of Gainesville.

By: Eyewitness News
September 18, 2014 - 6:30pm

Eyewitness news has learned of a possible murder/suicide in Bell, Florida.

That is located in Gilchrist county about an hour west of Gainesville.

There will be a press conference at 8 p.m.

We have a crew headed to the scene and will continue to update as more information comes in.

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