The town of Bell, Florida, is in shock and mourning on Sept. 19, the day after convicted felon Don Spirit shot and killed his adult daughter and six of his grandkids before taking his own life. Law enforcement held a press conference this morning in Bell, but shed little light on why Spirit savagely murdered his family, according to The Miami Herald.
Prior to yesterday’s killing spree, Spirit had previously spent time in prison in connection with the 2001 shooting death of his youngest son, Kyle, who Spirit shot in the head during a hunting trip. Spirit’s story at the time was that he was cleaning rust from the barrel of his rifle when it discharged, instantly killing his son. Because Spirit had previously been convicted of a marijuana possession charge, he was legally banned from carrying firearms. Spirit spent three years in prison after pleading guilty to a felony firearms violation in connection with his son’s shooting death.
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 possession and depriving “a child of food, shelter.”
Shot dead in yesterday’s still unexplainable mass murder-suicide were Spirit’s daughter, Sarah Lorraine Spirit, 28 and his six grandchildren. Fox News identified the child victims as Kaleb Kuhlmann, 11, Kylie Kuhlmann, 9, Johnathon Kuhlmann, 8, Destiny Stewart, 5, Brandon Stewart, 4, and Alanna Stewart, a four-month-old infant. The 51-year-old shooter also died after putting a gun to his own head.
Today, the small town of Bell is concentrating its efforts on caring for their children and helping them try to cope with the senseless deaths of their friends and neighbors. The community wants to honor and remember those that died yesterday.
Robert Rankin, the superintendent for Gilcrest County schools, described Sept. 19 as a “tough morning at our elementary school.” Gilcrest said that the child victims who were in kindergarten, second, third and fifth grades, were all “happy-go-lucky students” who were “loved by their classmates, by the teachers and the staff of Bell Elementary School.” Rankin added that about 30 grief counselors are currently on hand to help Bell Elementary School’s more than 500 students cope with yesterday’s tragedy.
Parents and children streamed into Bell Elementary on Friday morning in an apparent state of bewilderment. They were escorted from the parking lot by uniformed sheriff’s Gilchrist County deputies, who offered condolences and hugs. Some young children clutched fists full of tissues.
Spirit dialed 911 yesterday to say that he might harm himself or others. By the time police arrived at the scene around 4 p.m., Spirit’s shooting rampage had already taken place. When a deputy tried to talk with Spirit, the grandfather shot himself in the head.
Friends and neighbors can’t understand what drove Spirit to kill his own daughter and six grandchildren. One Bell resident trying to make sense of it is Daniel Barry, who described yesterday’s events as “tragic.”
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.”