Felon with gun kills daughter, 6 grandchildren

BELL, Fla. – A 51-year-old man who spent time in prison a decade ago in connection with the accidental shooting death of his young son during a hunting trip 13 years ago shot and killed his daughter and six grandchildren Thursday afternoon before turning the gun on himself.

The shooter, Don Spirit, called 911 from his home in the Gilchrist County town of Bell  about 4 p.m. to say he might harm himself or others. According to Sheriff Robert Schultz, when a deputy arrived, Spirit committed suicide and authorities then found the seven gunshot victims "all over on the property," Schultz said.

The six children -- 11-year-old Kaleb Kuhlmann, 9-year-old Kylie Kuhlmann, 8-year-old Johnathon Kuhlmann, 5-year-old Destiny Stewart, 4-year-old Brandon Stewart and 3-month-old Alanna Stewart -- and their mother, 28-year-old Sarah Lorraine Spirit, all died from apparent gunshot wounds, according to deputies.

Previous mugshot of Don Spirit

Schultz said Don Spirit (pictured, right) did not legally have the gun used in the killings. The sheriff didn't have a motive for the massacre, but said deputies had been to the home in the past for various reasons, none of which were for domestic violence.

"There's still a lot of unanswered questions. There's going to be questions that we're never going to get answered," Schultz said.

Cousins of the children told News4Jax on Friday that they were shocked and angry.

"Had he been left in prison where he deserved to be, maybe those kids would be here today," said Kasey Hart, adding that Sarah Lorraine Spirit was afraid of her father.

"She was having issues. I guess nobody at that time realized how serious it was until yesterday," Hart said. "Being a mom of seven kids, I can understand money is tight. You did the best that you can do. You're not prepared for everything. I mean, she lived where she had a roof over her head. Was it the best decision for her to make? No. But at the time, where else would she going to put her children?"

Schultz the mass killing and suicide was being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and he could not provide any new information.

"At this time we have no indication of what caused this man to do what he did, and we may never know," Schultz said. "There were certainly no signs or indications to us previously that something like this could or was going to happen."

Schultz asked for prayers for the small community as it deals with the tragedy.

"This community will come together. We'll continue to be a family, and we'll work through this," Schultz said. "We're resilient. We have some good, top-notch individuals who work in this county and that live here."

News4Jax was told immediate family members of the victims were in Gainesville on Friday making funeral arrangements. They said they want to bury all six children and their mother together. 

A crowdfunding website was also set up to raise money for funeral expenses.

UNCUT VIDEO: Gilchrist County sheriff's Thursday night briefing on mass murder-suicide |
Sheriff, school superintendent Friday morning update

Schultz said deputies have been called to the residence before on multiple occasions and that Spirit does have a criminal history.

As a convicted felon, Spirit was not allowed to have a gun, Gilchrist County sheriff's spokesman Lt. Jeff Manning said Friday. The sheriff's office hasn't said how Spirit obtained a gun or what type of gun he used.

According to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts website, he was arrested in 1996 for felony drug possession; in 1995 for depriving a child of food and shelter; in 1994 for felony accident involving death and driving without a valid license, possession of drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia, and opposing an officer without violence; in 1992 for misdemeanor battery; and in 1990 on three fugitive warrants.

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In 2001, Spirit accidentally shot his 8-year-old son Kyle to death in a hunting accident. Spirit's other son Josh, who was 11 at the time, was also with him.

Spirit pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to three years in prison per the plea agreement. He faced a maximum term of 15 years.

The Orlando Sentinel gave a description of what happened in the hunting accident, attributing the Osceola County Sheriff's Office.

On a walk through the woods with his son, Spirit pointed out rust on the muzzle of his high-powered Browning rifle. The rifle fired, hitting Kyle in the head.

The Sheriff's Office said Spirit drove miles through the dense woods with Kyle in the back of the truck, looking for help.

Schultz said Spirit was not on any type of community control when the massacre happened.

Sarah Spirit also had an extensive arrest history. She was arrested in 2007 for domestic battery with Edward Kuhlmann, the father of three of the children, and in 2008 for domestic battery with Don Spirit. In 2010, Don Spirit filed a petition of support against her. Also in 2010, Sarah Spirit filed a child support petition against the father of her other three children, James Stewart.

Sarah Spirit was arrested in 2011 for simple battery, in 2012 for possession of synthetic drugs and possession of a black prescription, and in 2014 for domestic battery.

Edward Kuhlmann has been in and out of jail for the last eight years. He just went back to prison in July, sentenced to 22 years for burglary and grand theft.

James Stewart has two arrests for domestic battery in April and July 2013, and a 2012 arrest for grand theft. He also was arrested in Alachua County in September 2013 for fraud and dealing in stolen property.


About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.