Small town of Bell shaken after man kills daughter, 6 grandchildren and self



GILCHRIST COUNTY, Fla. - Deputies said a man shot and killed his daughter, his six grandchildren and himself inside a home in the small town of Bell in Gilchrist County on Thursday.

Deputies identified the shooter as 51-year-old Don Spirit and his daughter as 28-year-old Sarah Spirit.

Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert 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.

Deputies said Don Spirit called 911 about 4 p.m., and referenced that he would harm people and himself.

When deputies arrived at the home, which sits on a long dirt road on 29th Street, they said all seven victims were dead, and deputies confronted Spirit before he killed himself in front of the officers.

Investigators said the victims were found throughout the remote property.

Residents said the shooting has rocked their small town.

“They don’t know how to react because this is not a big city,” said resident Deborah Tarantino.

Governor Rick Scott met with investigators and offered support to the community.

“Right now what we have to do is say a prayer because this is not a big city as you can see,” Scott said.

The victims’ surviving family members were too distraught to speak publicly, but expressed concern the 51-year-old suspect suffered from mental health issues and was known to take illegal drugs.

“He might have been like, just a ticking time bomb,” said neighbor Maureen Burdick. “Right now what we have to do is say a prayer for this family.”

During a news conference Friday morning, Gilchrist County's Superintendent of Schools, Rob Rankin, said, "We ask for prayers for our community in light of the tragic events."

Rankin said four of the children attended Bell Elementary School, which has 540 students. They were enrolled in kindergarten, second, third and fifth grades. A teacher says she put the children on a bus at 3 p.m.

More than six deputies and about 25 councilors were on hand at Bell Elementary School Friday.

"These students were loved by their classmates, by their teachers and staff of Bell Elementary School," said Rankin.

Spirit had served time in the Department of Corrections, according to records.

He had been arrested over the years on charges of battery, a hit-and-run incident and drug charges.

Deputies said they’ve been called to the home where the shooting happened several times in the past, but never for any domestic violence complaints.

“We’ve has nothing to this extent. We’ve had calls for service at that residence,” said Schultz. “There was a criminal history on the suspect.”

It isn’t the first time Spirit has been accused of killing one of his children.

In 2001, authorities said he accidentally shot and killed his 8-year-old son in a hunting accident in Osceola County.

Spirit made a plea deal for firearms violations and spent three years in prison.

Neighbor Amy Gordon told WFTV that her husband heard eight shots the night of the shootings.

"He realized something was up when he heard the shots," said Gordon. "It's going to touch the whole community, I'm sure."

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Deputies said there’s no telling what would cause Spirit to open fire.

"As far as I know, there is no motive that was relayed to anybody. Obviously, that's going to be the big question in all of this. I'm sure we'd all like to know why it happened, but we'd only be speculating at this point," said Schultz. "I haven’t handled something like this at all and to say that this county, this community, is not going to be devastated from this, from a small county. We’re all family here." 

After investigating through the night, deputies learned the gun used in the crime was illegally owned.

“There’s no motive that was relayed to anybody,” said Lt. Jeff Manning with the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office.

Bell is small town of about 350 people and is located 30 miles west of Gainesville.

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