A man who spent time in prison a decade ago for the shooting death of his young son killed six of his grandchildren, including an infant, his adult daughter and himself in a rampage at a home where authorities in the small Florida town say they had been called to in the past.
The shooter, 51-year-old Don Spirit, called emergency dispatch Thursday afternoon to say he might harm himself or others, Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz said at a news conference. When a deputy arrived, Spirit committed suicide and authorities then found the seven gunshot victims "all over on the property," Schultz said.
Official records showed that both Spirit and his daughter had arrest records.
Jail records show that his daughter, 28-year-old 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.
Schultz wouldn't say if a weapon was recovered or what sort was used. He didn't have a motive for the killings but said deputies had been to the home in the past for various reasons.
"There's still a lot of unanswered questions. There's going to be questions that we're never going to get answered," he said.
A 'trying time'
Schultz also did not say if Sarah Spirit was the mother of any of the two boys and four girls, some of whom spent a lot of time at the rural home.
At a later news conference, Schultz released the names of the victims. In addition to Sarah Spirit, they 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 two 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.
As darkness fell, police had cordoned off the length of the dirt road leading to the home near the town of Bell, a town of just 350 people about 30 miles west of Gainesville.
Schultz said Spirit was the only suspect and that some people were left alive at the home. Schultz also said Spirit had a criminal history. According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, Spirit was released from prison in February 2006 for a gun charge.
Convicted in 1998
According to an online story in 2003 by the Orlando Sentinel, a 40-year-old Don Spirit pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the fatal shooting of his eight-year-old son, Kyle, in a 2001 hunting accident. He was sentenced to three years in prison and was emotional about the shooting at his hearing.
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, according to the Osceola County Sheriff's Office. Spirit was convicted in 1998 for felony possession of marijuana, according to a charging affidavit.
Bell resident Daniel Barry was trying to absorb the loss in the community west.
"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."