BELL, FLA. -- The man who killed his adult daughter and six children before ending his own life on Thursday afternoon in a violent rampage in rural north Florida had a lengthy criminal history and had accidentally killed his youngest son more than a dozen years ago.
In 2001, Don Spirit took his son Kyle, then nine years old, on a hunting trip to the Three Lakes Wildlife Management Area near rural Kenansville, about 50 miles southeast of Orlando.
On the last day of the trip, Spirit’s hunting rifle discharged as he was cleaning rust off the barrel. The bullet struck the young boy in the head, killing him instantly, according to a 2001 story published in the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times
“It all happened so quickly,” a sobbing Spirit told the newspaper during an interview from his home. He was living in South Tampa at the time. He later pleaded guilty to a felony firearms violation and spent three years in state prison.
Officials work on NW 29th Terrace near the scene of a shooting on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 in Bell, Fla. Officials said two adults and six children are dead in the incident.Officials work on NW 29th Terrace near the scene of a shooting on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014 in Bell, Fla. Officials said two adults and six children are dead in the incident. | Matt Stamey/AP Photo/The Gainesville Sun
What happened Thursday afternoon in this tiny community near Bell, some 30 miles west of Gainesville was no accident, say law enforcement authorities.
Speaking at a news conference late Thursday night, Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz said a deputy had gone to Spirit’s home to investigate a reported shooting. When he arrived, he made contact with the 51-year-old Spirit, who then committed suicide.
Investigators later found the other seven bodies “all over on the property,” Schultz told reporters.
Schultz wouldn’t say if a weapon was recovered or what sort was used. He didn’t have a motive but said deputies had been to the home in the past for various reasons. He said there were others at the home who survived Spirit’s attack, but it’s unclear if they were injured or not.
“There’s still a lot of unanswered questions. There’s going to be questions that we’re never going to get answered,” he said.
Schultz would not say if the woman killed was the mother of any of the two boys and four girls, some of whom spent a lot of time at the home.
The victims were identified as Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28; Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11; Kylie Kuhlmann, 9; Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8; Destiny Stewart, 5; Brandon Stewart, 4; and Alanna Stewart, an infant who was born in June.
Schultz confirmed that 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 that was related to the 2001 accidental shooting of his son.
At the time of the shooting, Spirit had been convicted of marijuana possession (1998) and was not allowed to carry a firearm as a convicted felon.
That, however, wasn’t the only time Spirit had run afoul of the law.
Hillsborough County court records show Spirit had been arrested and charged at least seven times for various misdemeanors and felonies between 1990 and 1996. Among the charges: battery, drug possesion and depriving “a child of food, shelter.”
Over the last decade, Gilchrist County court records show Spirit had been charged with several misdemeanors and felonies. In 2008, he spent nearly four months in jail on a battery charge, while in 2009 he was put on probation after a DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving.
In his tearful interview with the Times in 2001, Spirit acknowledged he was no saint.
“I may not have lived the best life,” he told the newspaper.
The Associated Press contribued to this report.