BELL, Fla. – Florida's child welfare agency was warned in 2013 that a man should be kept away from the daughter and six grandchildren that he later killed, Alachua County's sheriff told a newspaper.
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, Sheriff Sadie Darnell told The Gainesville Sun.
On Sept. 18, Spirit shot 28-year-old Sarah Spirit, and her six children: Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and Alanna Stewart, who was born in June, in Bell before killing himself.
Darnell says DCF was warned during the 2013 child abuse investigation by a University of Florida child protection team.
"And DCF was advised (for the children) not to have contact with the grandfather," Darnell said.
State officials refused to confirm to the newspaper that they interviewed the children, citing confidentiality laws.
The child protection team responded after Spirit's ex-wife, Christine Jeffers, called authorities in an attempt to protect her grandchildren, telling a deputy that Don Spirit suffered from bipolar disorder.
At the time of the shooting, Don Spirit was well-known to local authorities: He had a previous felony conviction related to the accidental shooting of his son during a hunting trip. In 2008, Sarah Spirit had filed a police report claiming he hit her while she was pregnant.
In the Alachua County sheriff's report of the 2013 child abuse interview, Sarah Spirit told a deputy she had seen guns in her father's possession. As a former felon, he was not legally allowed to have firearms.
It is unclear what, if anything, DCF did in response to the warning.
Still, two weeks before the killings, the state's child abuse hotline was called by someone who reported that adults were doing drugs in front of the kids, according to documents released by DCF.
DCF spokeswoman Alexis Lambert refused to comment on the 2013 case, saying DCF will comment after an investigation into the agency's history with the Spirit family is complete.