BELL, Fla (CBSMiami/AP) — A multiple murder-suicide that happened in Bell, which involved six children, has caused the community to question Florida’s Department of Children and Families’ role after they missed several preceding alarms.
With an edgy yet calm voice, Donald Spirit told a 911 dispatcher he had just killed his six grandchildren, including a baby, and would wait until authorities arrived before going to his back porch and killing himself.
“Yes, ma’am. I just shot my daughter and shot all my grandkids. And I’ll be sitting on my steps and when you get here I’m going to shoot myself,” Spirit, 51, said in the 911 call released Tuesday.
He placed the call Thursday from his mobile home in the rural north Florida town of Bell after killing his daughter, 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.
The dispatcher asked Spirit what kind of gun he had, and he told her it did not matter.
“When you get here, I’ll shoot myself and then you can figure out what kind of gun it is,” he said, starting to sound angry.
“You got all the kids are dead in the house. … Six kids, one adult. … One of them is a baby.”
He then repeated that he planned to shoot himself on his back step once officers arrived. The dispatcher can be heard whispering to someone that she needs help before the recording is cut off.
When deputies arrived on scene, they had a brief verbal exchange with Spirit before he shot himself, according to the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office.
Inside the mobile home, the bodies of the six children were scattered. The bodies of Spirit and his daughter were found in different areas outside the home.
The sheriff’s office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they released the 911 recording because they are in the final stages of the investigation.
Spirit used a .45-caliber handgun, and the FDLE and the sheriff’s office have said they are looking into how he obtained a gun. As a felon, he was barred from owning firearms.
The killings have shattered the town of about 500 people about 43 miles west of Gainesville and spurred questions about why Florida’s Department of Children and Families had not intervened.
It was well known in Bell that the Spirit family had run-ins with the law. Donald Spirit served time after accidentally shooting his young son on a hunting trip.
A police report from 2008 showed that Sarah Spirit had reported being beaten by her father when she was 36 weeks pregnant.
Two weeks before the killings, someone called a state child abuse hotline to report that adults were doing drugs in front of the kids, according to documents released by DCF.
Documents also showed that DCF had offered services to Sarah Spirit at least three times in the last few years.
Roy Miller, president of The Children’s Campaign, said the state has failed too many times over the years in gruesome child abuse deaths.
“We need systemic change to how we do investigations,” said Miller, whose group unsuccessfully pushed the Legislature this year to transfer investigations to local sheriff departments on a voluntary basis. Currently, sheriff’s agencies handle child abuse investigations in only six of Florida’s 67 counties.
“Had a sheriff’s investigator showed up … we believe the sheriff’s department would have been better informed and possibly more aggressive.”
DCF’s regional managing director Dennis Miles said Tuesday that there appeared to be several red flags but that the agency needs to look deeper at what happened.
After the slayings, a team of staffers was sent to investigate, per state protocol.
Miles said the team will look at previous interactions with the family, and “find out what went right, what went wrong and kind of give us some answers. Right now we don’t have answers.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he is asking for an investigation of DCF actions before the slayings.
“I’ve asked the (DCF) secretary to do a thorough investigation of all interactions to know what happened there, but right now the most important thing we can do is pray for that family because you just can’t imagine it happening to your family.”
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