BELL, Fla. (AP) — An ex-convict who killed six of his grandchildren, his adult daughter and himself had been in and out of jail and spent time in prison for accidentally shooting his son to death during a hunting trip, according to authorities and records.
Don Spirit, 51, called 911 on Thursday afternoon from his home to say that he might hurt himself or others. By the time a deputy arrived at his home in this small town outside Gainsville, Spirit had committed suicide, according to Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz.
The bodies of his daughter and her six children were found “all over the property,” Schultz said.
During a news conference Friday, Schultz said Don Spirit was couldn’t legally have a gun because he was a felon.
The sheriff wouldn’t identify the weapon used to kill the family, but the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page said a “deputy searched the residence which revealed multiple victims with apparent gunshot wounds.”
Spirit and his daughter, 28-year-old Sarah Lorraine Spirit, had arrest records and she was on probation for a 2013 grand theft arrest. Her father wasn’t on probation at the time of the killings, Schultz said.
Don Spirit was arrested in 1990 in Tampa on a felony fugitive warrant. Other arrests included misdemeanor battery, drug charges and depriving a child of food and shelter.
Schultz said deputies had been to the home in the past for various reasons. He didn’t have a motive for the murder-suicide.
“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions. There’s going to be questions that we’re never going to get answered,” he said.
The other victims were: Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and Alanna Stewart, who was born in June.
Gilchrist County Schools Superintendent Rob Rankin said four of the children attended Bell Elementary School, which has 540 students. They were enrolled in kindergarten, second grade, third grade and fifth grade. A teacher there said she put the children on a bus at 3 p.m. They were found dead at Spirit’s home less than 2 hours later.
“This has been a trying time for the community,” Lt. Jeff Manning, a sheriff’s spokesman, said during a press conference.
He held back tears as he spoke. “I’m not sure how you could get the clear signs that something like this could happen,” Manning said.
Police cordoned off the dirt road leading to the home near Bell, a town of just 350 people about 30 miles west of Gainesville.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, Spirit was released from prison in February 2006. Spirit pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the fatal shooting of his 8-year-old son, Kyle, in a 2001 hunting accident, according to a 2003 story by the Orlando Sentinel.
The story said that on a walk through the woods with Kyle and an older son, Spirit pointed out rust on the muzzle of his rifle. The rifle fired, hitting Kyle in the head. Spirit had been convicted in 1998 for felony possession of marijuana.
Bell resident Daniel Barry was trying to absorb the loss in the community west of I-75.
“It’s tragic, the kids. Even if there were family problems, why involve the kids?” he said outside a convenience store. “It’s enough that he took his daughter’s life, but his grandkids, too? It’s surreal.”