BELL, Fla. – Authorities say a man with an extensive criminal record — he spent time in prison a decade ago after the shooting death of his young son — killed six of his grandchildren, his adult daughter and himself in a rampage Thursday at a home in a small Florida town outside of Gainesville.
Don Spirit, 51, called 911 Thursday afternoon from his home in the town of Bell to say that he might hurt himself or others. By the time a deputy arrived, 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 late Thursday.
Separately, during a news conference Friday, Schultz said Don Spirit was not a legal gun owner and wasn't on probation at the time of the killings.
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 in the killings. He didn't have a motive 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.
In addition to Sarah Spirit, the 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 says 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.
As darkness fell Thursday, police had cordoned off the length of the dirt road leading to the home near Bell, a town of just 350 people about 30 miles west of Gainesville.
"Keep this community in your prayers," Schultz said. "Tomorrow's going to be a hard day in Gilchrist County."
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.
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 8-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 also was convicted in 1998 for felony possession of marijuana, according to a charging affidavit.
Speaking about Thursday's killings, Schultz said he wouldn't divulge where exactly the victims were found, though he said, "They were certainly all over on the property."
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."
Associated Press writer David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.